This is the inside story of a disaster that seems unimaginable in our time. How can an airliner full of people evaporate without a trace? 26 nations joined the hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight 370.
It was almost a relief to narrow it down to a hemisphere. Family members should prepare themselves for the worst. When Mh370 disappeared the families of those on board were plunged into a nightmare. And the world needed answers.
This article reveals the location where our data says the plane went down and the location yet to be searched. Finding Mh370 is fast becoming the most challenging search in human history.
Where is Flight MH370?
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the gateway to forty-three countries across Asia and beyond for tourist and business travelers going home. On Friday 7th March 2014, the pilots of Malaysia Airlines’ flight 370 to Beijing were filmes crossing from landside to airside. Whatever these men did in the hours that followed, or whatever happened to them, lies at the heart of this mystery.
The relationship between pilots and air traffic controllers is crucial to flying safely. There’s a real bond between controllers and pilots. They understand the job that each other is doing and it’s really really important part of the safety culture of aviation.
So how did MH370 slip the surveillance technologies the air traffic controllers rely on? Just as the flight had so many times before, at forty-one minutes past midnight, the Malaysia Airline’ Boeing 777 liften off into the night bound for Beijing.
On board were 227 passengers and twelve crew. It was a very normal flight, everything was calm, ordered. It was exactly what you would have been expecting on the day. There was no drama, there was no reason to, to think anything unusual was happening.
Stephen Landells is an experienced 777 pilot, with a comprehensive knowledge of the state of the art systems on board. Like all modern passenger planes, the Boeing 777 is a technological marvel. In service for 19 years its safety record is excellent.
- Maximum Range: 8,900 Miles
- Cruising Speed: 640 MPH
- Maximum Altitude: 43,100 Feet
- Wing Span: 200 FT (60.9 m)
- Length: 209 FT ( 63.7 M)
Its systems are so advanced, it can virtually fly itself. A lot of systems are automated but it is just a computer. You do use the automatics a lot but you have to control them and make sure they’re doing the right thing and that’s what the pilots do.
The pilots can communicate from anywhere from the globe using very high frequency and high frequency radio, a text messaging service using ACARS and a satellite link for voice calls and sending data. When it comes to navigating, the aircraft follows a route that’s already been programmed in. You’ll load your route into the navigational computer and you can actually load that all the way from your start point to the end point.
Less than a minute after take-off, the crew of MH370 were told to modify their route to Beijing. The crew were told to turn right on a more direct route to Beijing via a way point called Igari. Way points are code names for coordinates on the map that air traffic controllers and pilots use to navigate. I am going to add Igari, Igari. The airlines, the motorways in the sky are, they are set routes and they are defined by way points. Near Igari, responsibility for MG370 will pass from air traffic controllers in Malaysia to their counterparts in vietnam. Twenty-six minutes into the flight, the last ACARS message sent automatically from the aircraft showed normal routing all the way to beijing.
As Mh370 headed out over the South China sea, air traffic controllers were tracking it using technology developed in the 1930s: radar. Air traffic controllers use two main types of radar. Primary radar detects where aircraft are by sending out pulses of electromagnetic radiation and collects their reflections when they bounce off objects in the sky. Its range varies but modern systems can reach around a hundred miles.
The range is limited by the power that this radar can put out. The electromagnetic pulse has got to travel all the way out there, and bounce off the aircraft and travel all the way back so therefore the power when it gets back so therefore the power when it gets back is going to be very low indeed. TO extend their surveillance of the skies, air traffic controllers rely on a more sophisticated type of radar called secondary radar. Secondary radar has far longer range than primary radar because it doesn’t rely on detecting reflections. Instead, it sends a signal out to the aircraft which interrogates a piece of equipment on board called a transponder and it’s the transponder that sends a new signal back identifying the aircraft, its height and course.
The controller is controlling the flights on long range. They will nearly always rely totally on the secondary radar system because the primary radars are just not providing the information.
Thirty-eight minutes into the flight, air traffic controllers in Malaysia could clearly see MH370 on their secondary radar. As the aircraft neared the limit of Malaysian air space, the crew were told to contact air traffic controllers in Vietnam. These are the last words from the cockpit.
Malaysian 370 contacted Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9 good night.
Reply: Good night Malaysian 370.
At twenty-one minutes and four seconds past one, Malaysian air traffic controllers saw the plane passing over waypoint Igari on their secondary radar. Nine seconds later the radar screens went black.
The aircraft’s transponder, crucial to its visibility on secondary radar, had stopped working. The plane had vanished, and the mystery that’s touched millions of lives began. What happened next is one of the key unanswered questions. The crew made no radio contact with air traffic controllers in Vietnam and the plane never reappeared on secondary radar. Seventeen minutes elapsed before the Vietnamese controllers contacted Malaysia. Seventeen minutes is an incredible length of time. Within a couple of minutes you would normally be looking to say what’s happened here. Now the Vietnamese and Malaysian air traffic controllers began looking for the aircraft.
MH 370 was lost in a primary radar blindspot, such blind spots are common because it’s estimated only 10% of the globe is covered by radar. Aircraft often fly over oceans and remote regions beyond its reach. In one of the busiest radar blind spots, Hudson Bay in Canada, air traffic controllers are solving the problem with a revolutionary new kind of surveillance. Between two hundred and maybe three hundred aircrafts are flying over Hudson Bay every day.
There is no radar coverage of Hudson Bay so when air traffic controllers had no other means to track planes, they had to rely on pilots to stay in touch.
When you have no radar in a non-radar environment,when you have no way to see planes actually, you need to rely on estimates from pilots.
Now a new technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADSB) is taking the guesswork out of tracking flights in radar blind spots. Aircraft fitted with ADSB take their position from GPS satellites and broadcast it automatically to a ground station. Unlike radar stations these ADSB receivers are robust enough to be sited in the remote regions where blind spots exist.
In the future, ADSB ground stations will be supplemented by satellites so planes will be tracked over remote land regions or the middle of the oceans. Surveillance blind spots will be a thing of the past.
MH370 was broadcasting its position by ADSB and this website was tracking it but the system isn’t currently used throughout Malaysia and Vietnam and, even if it was, it wouldn’t have helped the air traffic controllers because the technology still relies on the transponder. When that stopped working this new tracking system was useless.
The disappearance of MH370 triggered intense speculation about the fate of the 239 people on board. The family of the missing needed answers.
Tony Cable is a Vetran aircrash investigator who worked on the Lockerbie bombing, and the concorde disaster. So could explain the aircraft’s sudden disappearance from secondary radar, and the radio silence. Any aircraft that suddenly disappears, inevitably you start talking about the possibilities and from structural failure, terrorist action, some other massive technical fault that could have caused a loss of control.
A key piece of evidence for investigators is what MH370 was carrying on board. There is a quite interesting item here of lithium ion batteries. Must be handled with care, and that a flammability hazard exists if the package is damaged.
Lithium ion batteries can be found in laptops and mobile phones. All batteries are flammable but lithium ion batteries are one of the most volatile. MH370 was carrying two hundred kilograms of lithium batteries. There are tight regulations around how they are transported because they are thought to have caused fires on aircraft before. If there is a serious fire case history suggests unless a plane can land quickly, it is likely to crash. If there had been a fire on this aircraft, then the tendency would be to look for the aircraft, the wreckage at the point where you last had contact with it and projecting the flight path a little further forward.
Four hour after MH370 disappeared, a search was triggered in the South China sea, close to where the aircraft was last seen on secondary radar, to no avail. The result was not found, they didn’t find any wreckage.
The last communication from MH370 like all its satellite traffic was logged at a ground station in Perth Australia. After 60 minutes of inactivity the station sends signal to the aircraft which says are you still there? And then the aircraft just replies “yes”. And these are what we call the handshakes or the pings.
The data log showed there were seven of these electronic handshakes between the the ground station and MH370, each about an hour apart, and they all occurred after the plane had vanished.
The story the data was revealing was so bizarre it seemed it couldn’t be true. The aircraft had flown on for nearly seven more hours, and it could be thousand of miles away from the South China Sea.
At that point it was clear something strange had happened because the plane had flown on for all those, many hours.
But the mystery is Where had the aircraft flown for all that time? MH370 was connected to a communications satellite called 3F-1.
The riddle of MH370 had taken a stunning twist. The sensitive information Inmarsat had used to help work out the arc turned out to be top secret military radar data that showed MH370 made an inexplicable turn west, off its course to Beijing after it disappeared. It then flew across the Malaysian peninsula, before making another turn this time north-west. It was last recorded near the Andaman Islands at 2:22 a.m.
This new radar data raised a sinister possibility. The fact that MH370 had deviated from its course after it had become invisible to secondary radar suggested the aircraft transponder could have been turned off deliberately. ( Its actually such an important part of your navigational part of modern aircraft that you wouldn’t want to turn it off. ) But those with the criminal intent might.
Investigators began a trawl for suspects. The passengers list was crucial starting point. Police focused on two people who were travelling on forged passports but they were ruled out. The pilot themselves came under intense scrutiny but no evidence of a terrorist link has been found so far.
More than a week after MH370 vanished, no sign of aircraft had been found despite the efforts of twenty-six countries. At Inmarsat in London a new attempt was being made to help target the search. They knew the airplane had ended up crossing one of two bends. Chris Ashton was trying to work out whether the aircraft had gone north or south.
The big question was which route was taken? There was one more avenue to explore in the electronic handshakes, a second piece of data, the frequency at which the signal from the aircraft arrived at the ground station.
The satellite MH370 was in contact with doesn’t stay still in the sky. The satellite moves north and south over the equator and because the plane is also moving, there’s a variation in the frequency of the signals between them. Since that variation, known as Doppler effect, is predictable, it can be used to work out the direction the plane is travelling in.
The calculations were incredibly complex and there was no guarantee of success. They attempted this calculation for 2 or 3 times but no use. They were working for a long but time but not getting an exact match between the measured data and the predicted data.
But them came a break, quiet late on the Friday night, about 8 o’clock in the evening. suddenly the graphs matched, the data worked, the computation was answered. After a long research they found it was the southern route.
That meant flight MH370 must have flown south. Then there’s of course the realization that this is not the good news for the people on the plane. This is n’t the aircraft is commandeered and is flying up to Kazakhstan, wharf safely and everybody’s in a hangar.
This was the specific one where it flies south into the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Chris’s evidence sent to Malaysian authorities. The fact that we’d done a calculation that indicate a lot of people had died and was being used by the Malaysian government to inform the next to kind that they believed that their relatives had died, was, was quiet humbling lets say.
Science had broken open the mystery of what happen to MH370, generating evidence where none existed. From Kuala Lumpur the plane had been tracked by the secondary radar until it disappeared here. Also it had been tracked by military primary radar to then. Then in the absence of surveillance, Inmarsat’s analysis had shown the plane must have turned south crossing each arc as it flew on for six hours.
From now on locating the crash site becomes a matter of prediction, probability and possibility. What might explain the drastic course change south, and the long flight over the ocean?
On Saturday the 8th of March 2014, MH370 took off on a routine flight to Beijing. Just under 40 minutes later, it vanished. There have been many theories as to the fate of the plane and the global effort continues to try to solve the mystery and bring closure to the families of those who lost their lives.
The evidence from a number of groups is currently being assessed ahead of the next phase of the search for MH370. Horizon understands Inmarsat’s hotspot on the final bow is around 28 degrees south. It is an are yet to be searched.