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MH370 Latest information released, albeit late.

13/03/2014

Information is being drip-fed from the authorities, mainly it seems with pressure from the Chinese. They are pointing out that much of the detail being released now was known to the Malays several days ago. There is a feeling in Beijing that something is being held back, particularly on details of radar reports giving the aircraft’s flight path and positioning.

The last communication received from a Malaysia Airlines plane suggests everything was normal on board minutes before it went missing over the South China Sea, Malaysian authorities say.

Flight MH370 replied “All right, roger that” to a radio message from Malaysian air control, authorities said.

Meanwhile Chinese authorities have published images of what they suggest may be three pieces of wreckage.

The website of China’s State Administration of Science carries three satellite images taken on Sunday – a day after the plane went missing.

The images, which appear to show fragments in the sea, were only published on Wednesday. Co-ordinates alongside them would place the objects in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

The China-bound plane went missing on Saturday with 239 people on board. It vanished about an hour after it took off from Kuala LumpurInternationalAirport, as it flew south of Vietnam’s Ca Mau peninsula. No distress signal or message was sent.

 

Confusing’ information

Malaysian authorities revealed the plane’s last communication at a news conference held in Beijing for relatives of the 154 Chinese who are among the missing passengers.

As the plane reached the boundary between Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace, the Malaysian air control announced it was handing over to Ho Chi Minh City Control.

Minutes later, all contact with Flight MH370 was lost.

China’s foreign ministry said there was “too much confusion” regarding the information released about the plane’s flight path.

“It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate,” spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing.

Family members have been frustrated by the lack of information about the plane’s fate

There are conflicting reports of the plane’s last location as the search enters its fifth day

 

Earlier on Wednesday, Malaysia’s air force chief Rodzali Daud denied remarks attributed to him in local media that flight was tracked by military radar to the Malacca Strait, far west of its planned route.

Gen Rodzali Daud said he “did not make any such statements”, but the air force had “not ruled out the possibility of an air turn-back”.

 

Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, insists there is no confusion

Malaysian authorities on Wednesday requested assistance from India in searching the AndamanSea, north of the MalaccaStrait.

Vietnam has confirmed an investigation into a possible sighting of the plane has so far yielded no results.

Vietnam’s air traffic management earlier said it had received an email from a New Zealander working in one of the oil rigs off Vung Tau.

“He said he spotted a burning [object] at that location, some 300 km (200 miles) southeast of Vung Tau,” deputy general director Doan Huu Gia said.

Officials still do not know what went wrong with the aircraft, and several leads pursued so far have proven not to be linked to the plane.

Aircraft normally communicate with the ground using a number of systems, all of which, in this instance, appear to have failed.

How are aircraft normally tracked?

Air traffic control combines the location-measuring properties of basic radar with the signals provided by aircraft transponders to give a detailed picture of traffic in the sky.

All commercial aircraft are equipped with cockpit transponders (an abbreviation of “transmitter responder”), which automatically transmit electronic signals back to the ground when they receive a radio signal.

 

The most basic types send only the aircraft’s altitude and 4-digit flight code, but radar stations are able to establish the plane’s speed and direction by monitoring successive transmissions.

Radar coverage usually ends around 150 miles from shore, and while flying over the sea air crew keep in touch with the ground and other aircraft using high-frequency radio.

Transponders can be switched off manually in mid-air, but in the case of Flight MH370 it is not known whether the loss of signal was caused by deliberate human action or from a catastrophic event.

The last radio message received by air traffic control – “Alright, roger that” – suggests everything was normal on board minutes before it went missing over the South China Sea.

What if a transponder fails, or is turned off?

If a transponder stops sending a signal, aircraft can still be tracked using what is essentially still the same form of radar developed in the 1930s.

Primary radar tracks anything in the sky which reflects transmitted radio signals. As such, it can only indicate the approximate position of an aircraft – it cannot identify it.

It is used today mainly as a back-up system to secondary radar.

Officials in Malaysia have suggested that primary radar tracking may yield information about the missing airliner’s trajectory, but that the data requires detailed analysis by experts.

Don’t planes have GPS?

Yes, but while GPS (Global Positioning System) is a staple of modern life, the world’s air traffic control network is still almost entirely radar-based.

Aircraft use GPS to show pilots their position on a map, but this data is not currently shared with air traffic control.

Some of the most modern aircraft are able to ‘uplink’ GPS data to satellite tracking services, but handling large volumes of flight data is expensive and such systems are usually only used in remote areas with no radar coverage.

The disappearance of Flight MH370 is likely to bring renewed focus on whether mid-air tracking should be improved.

 

Aviation expert Chris Yates says the ADS-B system (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) is already using GPS data.

“In good chunks of the world, ADS-B operates which provides a ‘pseudo-radar’ image of aircraft in flight. That’s what’s used by flight trackers online, fed into a mapping system.

“It relies partly on GPS to generate a position fix.”

Aircraft use ADS-B to work out their position via a satellite. The plane then broadcasts its position to other aircraft and to a ground station.

The US will require all aircraft to be equipped with some form of ADS-B by 1 January 2020 and the system is predicted to replace radar-based tracking in the next decade.

The Malaysian aircraft disappeared from flight-tracking websites at the same time it vanished from air traffic control screens, and no GPS data has emerged to shed any light on its fate.

Could the ‘ACAR’ data system provide clues, as with Air France Flight 447?

When Air France Flight 447 crashed into the mid Atlantic in 2009, its onboard ‘Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System’ (ACARS) gave investigators vital early clues into what had gone wrong.

ACARS is a data service which essentially allows computers aboard the plane to ‘talk’ to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems.

ACARS data from Air France Flight 447 revealed how things started to go wrong.

Messages are transmitted either by radio or digital signals via satellites, and can cover anything from the status of the plane’s engines to a faulty toilet.

This provides ground crews with vital diagnostic information, allowing maintenance to be carried out more quickly.

In the Air France case, ACARS highlighted faulty speed readings, which caused the air crew to become disorientated.

But investigators say no data was received from the Malaysian flight.

Don’t a plane’s ‘black box’ recorders also transmit signals?

The mystery of Flight MH370 may only ever be solved when the aircraft’s ‘black box’ flight recorders are recovered.

However, when a plane is likely to have crashed into the sea, recovering them is not easy.

In the case of Air France Flight 447, it took nearly two years.

If under water, the black boxes themselves emit ultrasonic signals – but these signals have a limited range, and search crews may not detect them unless close to the actual crash site.

‘Black boxes’ may be the only way of establishing what went wrong.

Black boxes – described by aviation reporter Stephen Trimble in The Guardian as “one of the most galling anachronisms of modern aviation technology” – are not currently equipped with any form of GPS location transmitter.

 

Separately, Agence France-Presse quoted US officials as saying that US spy satellites had detected no sign of an explosion in the area at the time. The system has detected such heat signatures in the past but none was discovered this time, the officials said.

 

 

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