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How Satellite Company Inmarsat Tracked Down MH370

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the needle-in-a-haystack dept.

United Kingdom 491

mdsolar (1045926) writes "Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced that, based on satellite data analysis from UK company Inmarsat, Malayian Airlines flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, and no one on board survived. 'Effectually we looked at the doppler effect, which is the change in frequency, due to the movement of a satellite in its orbit. What that then gave us was a predicted path for the northerly route and a predicted path the southerly route,' explained Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of external affairs at Inmarsat. 'What we discovered was a correlation with the southerly route and not with the northern route after the final turn that the aircraft made, so we could be as close to certain as anybody could be in that situation that it went south. Where we then went was to work out where the last ping was, knowing that the aircraft still had some fuel, but that it would have run out before the next automated ping. We don't know what speed the aircraft was flying at, but we assumed about 450 knots.' Inmarsat passed the relevant analysis to the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) yesterday. The cause of the crash remains a mystery."

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Flight recorder (0, Redundant)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 9 months ago | (#46565091)

Presumably, now they have narrowed down the crash site, they can start looking for the black box and the wreck to figure out the cause.

Re:Flight recorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565121)

narrowed down to a few hundred square miles....

Re:Flight recorder (4, Insightful)

Zocalo (252965) | about 9 months ago | (#46565169)

Still vastly better than what it was only a day ago, and there seems to be a lot more possible debris sightings in the search area which I take as a sign they might be in the right area and will hopefully pin it down some more. The race now is to find it before the black box transmitters go silent, a task for which the US is dispatching some specialist search gear apparently, because that's probably the only hope of giving the bereaved a chance at some closure left now.

Re:Flight recorder (2)

David_Hart (1184661) | about 9 months ago | (#46565363)

Still vastly better than what it was only a day ago, and there seems to be a lot more possible debris sightings in the search area which I take as a sign they might be in the right area and will hopefully pin it down some more. The race now is to find it before the black box transmitters go silent, a task for which the US is dispatching some specialist search gear apparently, because that's probably the only hope of giving the bereaved a chance at some closure left now.

They may be a lot closer to the area where the plane went down, but they are still far from finding it. After all, the debris, assuming it's from the plane, has likely drifted a long way from the original crash site. Even if they are able to track back the debris by modeling the ocean currents in the area and cross referencing that with the flight path, the remaining search area is still going to be huge. Unless the search teams pick up the blackbox signal before the battery runs out, we may never know what happened.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 9 months ago | (#46565681)

Just bring in Robert Ballard.

Re:Flight recorder (1, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#46565531)

And the only hope to prove it was not a software glitch that took offline all the communication systems and locked out the pilots.

There are no manual overrides for a fly by wire system, and you cant reboot it mid flight.

Re:Flight recorder (2)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 months ago | (#46565329)

Few hundred? Probably a bit more than that, but at least they have the vicinity. Which is significantly different from other places they were looking.

The Chinese government has been very impatient and hot under the collar about the whole search and lack of answers, yet they also have been coming forward with satellite photos of potential debris hundreds of miles apart from each other. "Hey! Look here!" "Hey! Look there!" "Hey, look way over here, now!" What's taking you people so long finding it?!? We demand answers!

Meanwhile, some data has been very slow in coming, because defense and spy satellites are veeeerrrrryy good at tracking and seeing, but various countries have been slow to tip their hands and show just how much the see and can track, lest they give away some very closely guarded secrets.

Hopefully the remains of the craft will be found soon, so the Chinese government can move from frustration to anger directed at whomever or whatever is responsible. Also, so families can have a sense of closure.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#46565567)

Contrary to movies, spy satellites do not watch every inch of the planet. Nor can you easily steer them into another orbit for live James Bond style feeds.

ZERO spy satellites point at the open ocean, nothing interesting going on out there.

Re:Flight recorder (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565629)

As a supervillian I prefer locations such as this, such as my base deep on the ocean floor. Hopefully they don't find it when they look for the damn plane.

Re:Flight recorder (4, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#46565661)

They already know about your Skull Volcano island... they dont care because the US government hopes to contract out your services for the "protection" of the American People...

BTW: you have those genetically altered badgers ready yet?

Re: Flight recorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565725)

Yes but every cell transmission is stored and can be played back at any time, but a satellite that keeps tabs on all things airborne? Totally impossible!!!!

Re:Flight recorder (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46565579)

but various countries have been slow to tip their hands and show just how much the see and can track, lest they give away some very closely guarded secrets.

I would LIKE to think ... that even the NSA would pick up the phone and say 'look, I can't tell you anything other than go to these coordinates: blah blah, we think you might want to see this' and nothing of value would be divulged. We already are aware of what Google has in the area for photos, which is plenty good enough to make a statement like that, so its not like it tells us how much better they see than something like Google Maps.

There are ways to deal with that situation. I'd like to think we'd use them.

Re:Flight recorder (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 9 months ago | (#46565163)

They have narrowed down the presumed crash site. TFA states that the Malaysian government takes this data as proof that the plane crashed near Australia. While important evidence, it's hardly proof - we will need actual debris.

The Malaysian government has been widely criticized about it's handling of this affair. They would like to wash their hands of it and go on to doing whatever it was they were doing out of the world's spotlight.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

afidel (530433) | about 9 months ago | (#46565275)

Both Chinese and French satellites detected large debris in the same vicinity (optical for the Chinese and radar for the French) and spotter planes from China and Australia also report spotting debris in that area. It will probably be some days before they can get enough ships in the area to coordinate a search grid, but at this point it's an almost certainty that they know the rough location of the crash.

Re:Flight recorder (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 9 months ago | (#46565489)

but at this point it's an almost certainty that they know the rough location of the crash

Until they can confirm the nature of the debris and identify that it's from the plane, I should think it's only "almost certain" that someone saw some form of debris, no?

Unidentified debris is just that.

Re:Flight recorder (2)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 months ago | (#46565389)

They have narrowed down the presumed crash site. TFA states that the Malaysian government takes this data as proof that the plane crashed near Australia. While important evidence, it's hardly proof - we will need actual debris.

The Malaysian government has been widely criticized about it's handling of this affair. They would like to wash their hands of it and go on to doing whatever it was they were doing out of the world's spotlight.

To be fair, the Malaysian government is a small body with mean resources, compared to China, USA, Russia, France, Great Britain, Japan, India, etc. The world community has come together admirably (if a little grudging regarding some satellite intel) and thrown enormous resources at this recovery project.

I am somewhat curious why the Chinese are so bent on a quick resolution here. Is it because they really do look after their people? Or was someone or something on the jet they really want know where is or have some finality on? I don't think any country has ever been this anxious over a lost jet before.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565591)

Is it because they really do look after their people?

No, it's more likely the result of them feeling full of themselves. Maintaining control of your people frequently requires making scapegoats of others. This is nothing new, nor is it unique to them.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 9 months ago | (#46565601)

Which is why they waited literally days before asking the international community for help? Seriously, significant progress didn't begin until the other countries were allowed to start helping.

You can be a small country with limited resources, but you don't get to excuse for not calling for help when you are clearly in over your head.

Re:Flight recorder (2)

DarkOx (621550) | about 9 months ago | (#46565391)

While important evidence, it's hardly proof - we will need actual debris.

Why do we need the debris? If the evidence is good enough that governments are willing to issue death certificates to the families, the book on this thing could be closed. Sure its not satisfying especially to the families that might really want the remains found but as a practical matter actually finding the plane won't change much.

Re:Flight recorder (4, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | about 9 months ago | (#46565493)

as a practical matter actually finding the plane won't change much

Really? You don't think there's much of a difference between knowing it was a mechanical failure (or fire, etc) and knowing it was a deliberate criminal act? If the problem was related to payload or the aircraft's infrastructure or maintenance, you don't think it's vital for all of the other people flying on that same equipment to know what went wrong? If this was done by the pilot(s) at the behest of some organization or state, or otherwise in the service of some agenda, you don't think that's meaningful, in the context of trying to prevent it from happening again? Glad you're so relaxed about it. You probably don't do much business overseas, or ship expensive things that are central to your mission, or have relatives that fly on that equipment or in that part of the world, so that's probably why the death of hundreds and the loss of a huge, expensive aircraft is a yawner to you.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 9 months ago | (#46565511)

as a practical matter actually finding the plane won't change much

Really? You don't think there's much of a difference between knowing it was a mechanical failure (or fire, etc) and knowing it was a deliberate criminal act? If the problem was related to payload or the aircraft's infrastructure or maintenance, you don't think it's vital for all of the other people flying on that same equipment to know what went wrong? If this was done by the pilot(s) at the behest of some organization or state, or otherwise in the service of some agenda, you don't think that's meaningful, in the context of trying to prevent it from happening again? Glad you're so relaxed about it. You probably don't do much business overseas, or ship expensive things that are central to your mission, or have relatives that fly on that equipment or in that part of the world, so that's probably why the death of hundreds and the loss of a huge, expensive aircraft is a yawner to you.

Turning off the transponders seems pretty deliberate.

Re:Flight recorder (4, Interesting)

bemenaker (852000) | about 9 months ago | (#46565669)

You are making a PRESUMPTION that the transponders were turned off by hand. There is still the possibility of a fire or some other case. This is why recovery of the FDR's is so important. The pilots may not have been on the radio, but the FDR's record everything they say. The conversations between flight crew is crucial, along with all the airplane data.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 9 months ago | (#46565521)

You aren't going to get the the mechanism of the crash by staring at satellite photos ...

Re:Flight recorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565527)

You're putting way too much faith in governments. Governments will very readily sweep something like this under the rug because they're tired of spending time and money looking for the plane, especially a small government like Malaysia's. You can't truly close the book until you find the plane. It may never be found, and I don't expect the Malaysian (et al..) government to search forever, but making a statement as definitive as "it crashed in the ocean. case closed." is hogwash at this point..

Re:Flight recorder (4, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | about 9 months ago | (#46565233)

They're probably worthless, the cockpit voice recorders are only required to have 30 minutes capacity with a recommendation for 2 hours, since we know it was at least 4 hours between the critical event (the plane turning south) and the crash the CVR's won't have any information about the events that matter (I'm assuming 777 uses digital recorders so they won't be able to pull phantom prior recordings like they sometimes were able to on analog recorders)

Re:Flight recorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565317)

Right, but the flight data recorder (FDR, not the CVR) records like 15 hours, so your claim that they are "probably worthless" is nonsense.

Re:Flight recorder (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565443)

Cockpit Voice Recorder [wikipedia.org]
A standard CVR is capable of recording 4 channels of audio data for a period of 2 hours. The original requirement was for a CVR to record for 30 minutes, but this has been found to be insufficient in many cases, significant parts of the audio data needed for a subsequent investigation having occurred more than 30 minutes before the end of the recording.

Flight Data Recorder [wikipedia.org]
Modern day FDRs receive inputs via specific data frames from the Flight Data Acquisition Units (FDAU). They record significant flight parameters, including the control and actuator positions, engine information and time of day. There are 88 parameters required as a minimum under current U.S. federal regulations (only 29 were required until 2002), but some systems monitor many more variables. Generally each parameter is recorded a few times per second, though some units store "bursts" of data at a much higher frequency if the data begins to change quickly. Most FDRs record approximately 17–25 hours worth of data in a continuous loop.[citation needed] It is required by regulations that an FDR verification check (readout) is performed annually in order to verify that all mandatory parameters are recorded.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 9 months ago | (#46565319)

If there are voices on it, it might indicate who was in the cockpit. It would be even more telling if there's shouting, such as from a locked-out copilot begging the pilot to turn around, or from the pilot yelling at terrorists that they don't have enough fuel to reach Antarctica and that they're going down into the ocean.

It's only completely worthless if its silent.

Re:Flight recorder (4, Insightful)

geogob (569250) | about 9 months ago | (#46565429)

It's only completely worthless if its silent.

On the contrary. A completely silent CVR tells you a lot; it tells you that the airplane kept on flying with every one on board either unconscious or dead for at least 2 hours before the crash. That's a critical information for the investigation.

Furthermore, through data/media forensic, you might be able to recover the previous data that was overrecorded, although I wouldn't count on it after 3 to 4 record cycles.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 9 months ago | (#46565345)

But if they find a pallet full of burst lithium batteries and bodies that died from smoke inhalation as well as no control from the cockpit for whatever length of time they do have on the flight recorder I think we'd have a pretty good idea.

I basically rooting, at this point, for the pilot to be cleared. Because the unwarranted animosity the press showed towards him based on just about 0 evidence deserves to be punished. Lastly, someone has to shut down CNN at this point. I mean, I dislike Fox and MSNBC as much as anyone but for Christs sake at least they have some shred of integrity left. CNN is to news what the Discovery channel is to science.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46565485)

zero evidence? There were three people on the aircraft that know how to hide the aircraft like this ... and ALL of them were sitting in the cockpit. If someone else on the aircraft knew how, no one has figured that out yet.

So instead of this being something done by one or two people, you'd much rather it be a systemic problem with aircraft that tens of thousands of people fly in everyday?

You'd much rather the press look bad ... and other people be at risk of death as well?

Thats pretty fucking short sighted, don'tcha think?

Re:Flight recorder (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 9 months ago | (#46565577)

I'd rather get to the truth of the matter. Yes, we should not be going hog wild speculation until we have some real answers but that could take months or years and our current news cycle can't handle that scale of time. They can't even imagine it.

Re:Flight recorder (1)

Radres (776901) | about 9 months ago | (#46565675)

Calm down, dude. He didn't say it had to be a systemic problem with the aircraft, just that it wasn't the pilot purposefully crashing the plane. There's still a wide range of things that could have gone wrong before considering it a systemic issue.

Re:Flight recorder (0)

Wootery (1087023) | about 9 months ago | (#46565633)

I dislike Fox and MSNBC as much as anyone but for Christs sake at least they have some shred of integrity left

No, [youtube.com] no, [newshounds.us] no.

Re:Flight recorder (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565697)

burst lithium batteries

But that is what Republicans want to find. They hate technology, and they have been attacking Boeing for decades for attempting to make better planes. For those of us that are technical and on /., we sometimes forget how hard those people are working to try to bring us back to the dark ages. They want to find the plane and blame laptop batteries. Just look at how hard they fought with their TSA army to try to beat people that attempted to bring lithium ion batteries onto a plane. For a while there, they were successful. I know my battery that they smashed was a victim in the Republican war against technology.

Re:Flight recorder (5, Interesting)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46565525)

CVRs on those aircraft are 2 hours, not 30 minutes.

What I want to know, is why my phone (the smallest model made) can hold 1100 hours of compressed audio ... but these aircraft using NAND don't hold more than 2 hours of uncompressed audio (you don't want any quality sacrifices or artifacts from compression to screw up your analysis later) in a redundant array ...

Someones going to tell me that for the 30-40k those black boxes cost ... they can't put some actual storage space in the fucking things?

Re:Flight recorder (2)

Radres (776901) | about 9 months ago | (#46565649)

Or now with in-flight WiFi an option, why isn't the black box configured to upload its audio to a server somewhere?

Re:Flight recorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565451)

They've been claiming the same thing for the past week and yet they have not found a damn bit of evidence. How many countries have claimed to have found pieces of the aircraft via their own satellite imagery? This is the twenty-first century yet ATC and surveillance satellites cannot track a commercial aircraft but they can track you and me to within 50 metres? By the time the aircraft is found, assuming it is located, the black box will contain nothing of relevance; oh we might be told it was an on-board fire, an electrical failure, terrorism, hijacking, or a rogue pilot. However, it won't matter one iota because of the colossal clusterfsck the Malaysian Government and various other governments have created in the aftermath.

Some questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565103)

How come the frequency information of the signal received by the satellite was saved? What is the purpose of saving all that data in normal operations?

And why did it take three weeks to do that analysis?

Re:Some questions (2)

Dthief (1700318) | about 9 months ago | (#46565183)

i think they saved it BECAUSE the plane was lost, and probably they keep things for like 24 hrs in case there is some issue with the flight.

since its a method they dont normally use maybe they didnt think to use it until 2 weeks past? and also I saw some mention of them passing the info on March 12th, but maybe that was less exact.

Re:Some questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565337)

Don't be daft. That information was *public* within a few days. There is nothing uncommon about retaining communication logs. For radios, this includes the *frequency* at which the communication occurs. From the frequency you can get lots of things, including Doppler shifts. Circular paths like that are even more deterministic if you know the latency, but I don't know if that happened in this case.

It doesn't take weeks to do analysis. It takes weeks to come to terms with the conclusion of the analysis.

CAPTCHA: deduce

Re:Some questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565369)

Because RF sucks big phat donkey balls. So you log everything you can from the radio, so you can tell why your signal quality is shittier than usual. The signal is probably so narrow that you need to account for doppler effects, low data rate means you don't have a flood of packets, so yes you can save everything, forever.

Re:Some questions (2)

fatboy (6851) | about 9 months ago | (#46565427)

I suspect, and I have zero knowledge of this system, that the satellite used has linear transponders that re-transmit the exact signal it receives. This means that both amplitude and frequency domain are relayed and received at the ground station. I imagine that the ground station is a software defined radio that digitizes and records everything that is passed though the IF.

Again, I know nothing of this system, but if I was going to build one, that's how I would do it.

Re:Some questions (5, Informative)

Strider- (39683) | about 9 months ago | (#46565455)

How come the frequency information of the signal received by the satellite was saved? What is the purpose of saving all that data in normal operations?

The communications system in question is likely based on TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access). While I have not worked with Inmarsat systems, all the other satcom systems I have worked with log each connection, and various pieces of information regarding the connection. One of these parameters that is logged is the frequency offset (ie the difference between the expected and actual frequency). This is useful from a troubleshooting perspective as it allows you to spot transmitter and receiver components that are drifting out of specification. Some of the more advanced satellite systems (iDirect) will actually log the geographic coordinates of the uplink site, as this plays into the timing requirements for the network. Unfortunately, Inmarsat isn't this aggressive with their timing, so time of flight isn't an issue).

And why did it take three weeks to do that analysis?

This is pure speculation on my part, but I would wager they had to go back through significant amounts of logs in order to characterize the transmitter and receiver components on that particular aircraft. The doppler effect is going to be subtle compared to the thermal drift of the transmitter, so they need to factor that out before they can get at the thermal drift. Also every oscillator and transmitter is different, so they would need to characterize the transmitter that is on that specific aircraft (which is now of course missing).

Re:Some questions (1)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#46565513)

How come the frequency information of the signal received by the satellite was saved? What is the purpose of saving all that data in normal operations?

And why did it take three weeks to do that analysis?

I thought the same thing.

With digital tuners, what radio system even captures exact frequency these days? Its either in-band our out of band and not heard.

Perhaps these satellite radios are wider band, and therefore they record the exact frequency any transmission arrived, but it just seems unusual to have this information at all, let alone to be able to dig it up out of several days old data.

I've figured out the cause of the crash (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565143)

Impact with water

Feel free to give me a call if you need help with any other pressing questions.

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565207)

and gravity. Guess they let Sandra bullock drive.

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (0)

ze_jua (910531) | about 9 months ago | (#46565215)

This credible source of information made a complete analysis of another crash [theonion.com] .

It's always the same story: The plane stops flying and touch the ground/ocean

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#46565323)

What happens when an airplane crashes into the ocean? Do the passengers die immediately from the impact?

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565409)

No, they are completely unharmed by near-instantaneous deceleration from hundreds of miles per hour down to zero, and they can surely withstand crushing and impaction by the deformation of the wreckage around them. No sir, it's the sharks that kill them in the end.

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (0)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#46565539)

Thank you, Mr. Nasty McSnarkenstein.

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (1)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#46565553)

Ask Captain Sullenberger. Oh, and stop being an idiot.

Re:I've figured out the cause of the crash (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 9 months ago | (#46565605)

At high speeds, wouldn't an air plane potentially skip across the surface without completely wrecking? Also, couldn't the plane slow down enough to lose altitude before losing altitude, hitting the water not quite as hard, at an angle that perhaps didn't immediately decelerate to zero or shred the plane? That's happened most of the time planes ditched in the water.

Executive summary... (5, Informative)

Last_Available_Usern (756093) | about 9 months ago | (#46565145)

We still have no idea exactly where the aircraft is, how it went down, or what to do now.

Re:Executive summary... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565179)

We have a pretty good idea of what the last thing that went through the pilot's mind upon impact was. His asshole.

Re:Executive summary... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565271)

Naa, he was knobbing the copilot so probably a dick.

Re:Executive summary... (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46565445)

uhm, unlikely, unless the plane pancaked/bellyflopped in with no forward velocity ... which is pretty much impossible since it was flying and is an aerodynamically stable object (it wants to point the noise into the wind, even without a pilot).

Its more likely the last thing that went through his mind was his face or glass/instruments from the cockpit, but probably a lot of ocean too.

Re:Executive summary... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565255)

I certainly know what to do now.

Little disturbing (4, Interesting)

kid_wonder (21480) | about 9 months ago | (#46565155)

Did the Malaysian government just make a statement to the families based on a statistical probability?

Or did they make that statement based on debris found that was positively identified to the aircraft.

Re:Little disturbing (2, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 9 months ago | (#46565209)

Based on the analysis of the satellite data.

Re:Little disturbing (1)

asmkm22 (1902712) | about 9 months ago | (#46565231)

The Malaysian government has mishandled communication from the start. I think they just want this whole thing over and done with. The ones in power over there aren't exactly used to being criticized like this.

Re:Little disturbing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565259)

Statistical probability.
You're starting to get in the realm of winning the NCAA men's basketball bracket 1 billion dollar challenge if the plane is not at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
Hence, why they're already making the statement that everyone aboard is no longer alive.

Re:Little disturbing (1)

idji (984038) | about 9 months ago | (#46565261)

The Malaysian government made the statement based on Inmarsat calculations, not on debris.

Re:Little disturbing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565277)

Yes, if you ignore this section (or disbelieve it) with words like "definitively" and "undoubtedly", then it was only some statistical probability: //From the article: // Meanwhile, Inmarsat's engineers carried out further analysis of the pings and came up with a much more detailed Doppler effect model for the northern and southern paths. By comparing these models with the trajectory of other aircraft on similar routes, they were able to establish an "extraordinary matching" between Inmarsat's predicted path to the south and the readings from other planes on that route.

"By yesterday they were able to definitively say that the plane had undoubtedly taken the southern route," said McLaughlin.

Re:Little disturbing (1)

khb (266593) | about 9 months ago | (#46565305)

The published text of the PM's speech makes it clear its based on the analysis (what you are calling "statistical probability") not debris or black box.

I don't know why anyone would find that disturbing.

Even if he had debris, for any given family there would still be some "statistical probability" that their loved one survived (infinitely close to zero) involving some sort of miracle, a hidden parachute or a missed connection, etc. Just as we'd discard such false hope, pretending that there is some other place folks ought to be looking or that there is any realistic chance that their family members are safe as hostages in some terrorist base.

It is exceedingly unfortunate that the data analysis was relatively slow (and the data itself was never open sourced); the delay resulted in much lost time and resources by many naval and air groups, and lots of needless gnashing of international teeth.

If there's any lesson here, the satellite data feed(s) should become a bit more formalized, and their release in the event of an accident be as standardized as the black box information. As for the $10/flight for the data, even if the airline doesn't pay for it up front, the data collectors should collect it, and save it until after the flight has landed. If it doesn't land, the airline can pay some much larger fee to get the data ahead of it going public ;>

Re:Little disturbing (5, Insightful)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 9 months ago | (#46565705)

I don't know why anyone would find that disturbing.

In Tres Roeder's "A Sixth Sense for Project Management," he shows a diagram of communications. This diagram shows information versus time.

In the beginning, information is unknown; then the information changes, back and forth. For example: a dollar estimate may be $3,000 for a project, then $85,000 when we realize we need to excavate cabling tunnels for a line, then $6,000 when we realize we can run this across our existing tunnel and have a new fiber optic pulled for $3,000, then $7,000 when we realize we're going to also need a new transceiver, then $4000 when we find out some of the other equipment is unnecessary, then $14,000 when we realize the scope of labor required is twice as big.

Finally, once we have enough information, that figure stays. Perhaps at $14,000. We also realize we've got the correct figure because we have a full analysis of scope and work required--or at least, the figure won't change until we've done a bunch of work and realized, deep into the project, that we missed something. In any case, it is now not likely to change simply because our information base is hot.

During the initial planning phase, communication should reflect this: the understanding of the situation--the lack of precision--and what is being done to pin that down is to be communicated; conclusive statements should not be communicated because the current understanding of the situation is inconclusive. Once the situation has reached a point of conclusion, then you communicate these conclusions.

What is disturbing about the Malaysian government here is they have been repeatedly saying, "We have no idea what's happening and there's a ton of information out there we're missing; but this is what happened." Then, five hours later, "Oh we found more debris, we think this happened instead." Then the next day, "Oh there was some satellite telemetry information we weren't done analyzing, but it's provided additional information, so we think the plane may have gone this way..."

In other words: They have piles of information they know they're missing, piles of information they have a plan for finding (i.e. "ongoing investigation"), and huge and visible gaps they know exist and expect to fill. They should not be communicating any conclusions at this time.

Re:Little disturbing (3, Insightful)

Zocalo (252965) | about 9 months ago | (#46565313)

Inmarsat managed to eliminate the northen arc based on differences in expected doppler differences of the signal pings, when the last ping was received, and assuming a conservative fuel consumption to that point, there would have been insufficient fuel left for the plane to make land, hence it went down in the ocean. It's important to note that Inmarsat is unable to say where exactly, only that it is within a given range of the location where last known ping was now known to have been sent from, which is where the search for wreckage is now centred. I gather this is the result of a highly unorthodox set of data analysis that is well outside normal procedures for determining location, hence the reason it's taken so long - some of the techniques they used probably haven't ever been done before.

Re:Little disturbing (1)

ziggystarsky (3586525) | about 9 months ago | (#46565617)

The nice thing about (bayesian) statistics is that you can combine information from different sources and form a coherent statistical estimate based on everything you have. So given they have a model about debris occurance in this part of the ocean, they can very well increase the probabilities based on the sighting of debris.
The BBC had a nice article about bayesian search methods some days ago: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazi... [bbc.com]

fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565193)

kinda off topic but: the first report i heard was that the plane had four hours of fuel on board. now it is seven? huh?

Re:fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565239)

Then you probably heard wrong. I've been hearing 7 hours since the start.

Re:fuel? (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#46565583)

kinda off topic but: the first report i heard was that the plane had four hours of fuel on board. now it is seven? huh?

Where did you hear that? I suggest you try to search for a citation for it and post it here. If there are discrepancies in the story, it's always good to bring them to daylight.

ACARS (1, Informative)

kriston (7886) | about 9 months ago | (#46565195)

The article does not make it clear that the satellite signals in question are those of ARINC's ACARS data system, developed in 1978.

ACARS [wikipedia.org]

Re:ACARS (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46565397)

No it isn't, its not using data from a system that WAS TURNED OFF within MINUTES of the last radio contact.

How the fuck did this get marked as insightful? Its make a wrong statement that everyone has know has been wrong since the second day.

Re:ACARS (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#46565623)

No it isn't, its not using data from a system that WAS TURNED OFF within MINUTES of the last radio contact.

How the fuck did this get marked as insightful? Its make a wrong statement that everyone has know has been wrong since the second day.

You should try to keep up with the actual events instead of lashing out on Slashdot.

The DATA transmissions ceased on the ACARS, but the radio system still pings the satellite.
The radio system keeps its link with the satellite as long as the actual transmitter has power.

Just because you stop tweeting on your phone doesn't mean the phone stops talking to towers.

Re:ACARS (1)

Cyberdyne (104305) | about 9 months ago | (#46565509)

The article does not make it clear that the satellite signals in question are those of ARINC's ACARS data system, developed in 1978.

Probably because ACARS was turned off hours earlier in the flight, back before the aircraft flew back over Malaysia! Had it been active, ACARS would have reported the aircraft's location, altitude, speed and other useful data, making finding it much easier; it was switched off with the other cockpit systems, though, leaving just the Inmarsat terminal's hourly "ping" active, so until the Doppler analysis, all they knew was the distance between the satellite and aircraft.

This story is so strange (3, Interesting)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 9 months ago | (#46565265)

It just seems like they have information that still doesn't make sense for what we're told are the available resources. The public info just seems so selective as if each government is trying to hold their surveillance cards as tightly as possible. And, intel from an old satellite seems like a cover story. This is all just so...off.

Re:This story is so strange (3, Interesting)

SydShamino (547793) | about 9 months ago | (#46565385)

I thought that maybe a bunch of spy satellites picked up and stored the broadcasts, and that they can use timestamps from the various receptions to triangulate the position. That's sort of a reverse-active GPS.

Of course they'll never say "we got this from U.S. and British spy satellites" so they make up something about doppler shift data from a single satellite and hope they find the debris soon to corroborate the story.

Or maybe they did do it all from the doppler shift data they happened to store. It's at least plausible, and there's no need to create conspiracy theories when they aren't particularly shocking.

Re:This story is so strange (1)

efti (568624) | about 9 months ago | (#46565597)

I agree that the explanation is pretty vague. They must have based it on the change of doppler shift in multiple consecutive transmissions (as the plane was flying further south it was flying away from the satellite rather than parallel). It would be a bit more credible if they also showed their estimates for the other transmissions, not just the last one. Bottom line is that they must have better information and be reasonably confident about it otherwise they wouldn't be concentrating on a single area. Kind of how it didn't make sense to me why they were searching on the wrong side of the Malaysian peninsula until they disclosed the primary radar data.

Re:This story is so strange (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 9 months ago | (#46565417)

This [wired.com] is the most credible explanation I've seen thus far. (It was mentioned here a few days ago, but I'm too lazy to track down the link right now.)

Re:This story is so strange (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 9 months ago | (#46565619)

To summarize:

Fire on board the plane.
Pilot diverts to the nearest safe airport (which is approximately line with the sudden course change to the west).
Flight crew runs through the fire checklist, which includes pulling all the breakers in case it's an electrical fire (Transponder and communications lost).
Fire causes decompression, pilots bring the plane down to 12,000 ft to remain conscious and keep the passengers alive.
Crew is overcome by smoke and/or decompression, plane flies on under auto-pilot until it runs out of gas.

Incredibly simple explanation for everything that is known at this point, even some of the sketchier details that are 100% for sure at this point.

Re:This story is so strange (1)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 9 months ago | (#46565431)

Yes.. this whole incident is going to make great fodder for conspiracy theories for years to come at this rate.

I would like to coin the theory right now that there was a second plane that extracted all the passengers mid flight and carried them the rest of the way. After everyone was taken off the plane it was allowed to fly on until it ran out of fuel.

Re:This story is so strange (1)

icebike (68054) | about 9 months ago | (#46565651)

There is very little reason to have spy satellites in the south Indian ocean.
Inmarsat is one of the few companies needing coverage down there because they have the contract for ACARS data an occasional sat phone calls. This area is not even on normal shipping routes.

Mystery? (4, Insightful)

alta (1263) | about 9 months ago | (#46565291)

The cause of the crash isn't a mystery. It most likely ran out of fuel.

The cause of why the whole damn plane went AWOL IS a mystery.

Re:Mystery? (1)

savuporo (658486) | about 9 months ago | (#46565487)

If it simply ran out of fuel, it should have made controlled water landing and likely floated, with plenty of people exiting the plane with life vests on.

chances of controlled water landing are slim (2)

SuperBanana (662181) | about 9 months ago | (#46565613)

It's virtually impossible to land a large plane in the water "safely"; if either wing or engine touches the water before the other, that side digs in and the plane cartwheels, ripping itself to shreds.

The hudson plane landing wasn't a miracle because of skill on the part of the pilot - it was a miracle because it was astronomically slim odds that the plane would continue in a straight line and remain intact.

Re:Mystery? (1)

quipalicious (1036368) | about 9 months ago | (#46565711)

you assume there was a pilot awake to make such a landing auto pilots don't typically perform water landings, automated landing systems exist, but use gps and/radar. The most likely cause is a tire fire in the front landing gear. The fire spread slowly, but once outside the wheel well, smoke would overcome the pilots as well as the passengers. oxegen use would fuel the fire, and smoke hoods only work for 2 minutes. They were trying to make for the closest runway.

May they rest in peace.

I doubt the black box will be found, it's 2 miles under the just about the coldest nastiest ocean in the world. I hope we are able to invent a little floating black box/data streaming for emergency situations. It is so sad to see lives lost, and sadder still if we can't point definitive fingers at the cause.

How can they be certain no one survived? (2)

dtjohnson (102237) | about 9 months ago | (#46565373)

The calculations show the southern flight path and consequently a water landing. But...how can they be so certain that no one survived? Isn't it possible that the airplane made a controlled glide into a non-powered water landing and that the life rafts deployed and allowed some of the passengers to survive? That has happened before. Admittedly this is very unlikely but can anyone at this point say it is impossible as the Malaysian government is doing?

Re:How can they be certain no one survived? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565497)

Two weeks without fresh water is not survivable.

Re:How can they be certain no one survived? (1)

dtjohnson (102237) | about 9 months ago | (#46565587)

Might there be emergency water supplies on the rafts? Perhaps they have small solar-powered desalinators on the raft as emergency equipment (many do)? Perhaps it rained and the passengers collected rainwater?

Re:How can they be certain no one survived? (1)

Gavin Scott (15916) | about 9 months ago | (#46565645)

Yes, that could be. But it seems clear that the plane was not being controlled by anyone who wanted the plane or its passengers to be rescued, so "oh, I've just flown the plane as far away from civilization as possible and I've just run out of fuel, yet I think I'll try at the last moment to make a successful water landing so as many people as possible can be saved" just does not seem likely. Either the plane was not under control, or those in control were not trying to save anyone.

And more specifically I strongly suspect the life-rafts were equipped with EPIRB satellite transmitters, none of which were activated. So that sort of suggests there aren't a bunch of people floating in a raft somewhere (which likely would have shown up during the satellite debris search I suspect).

Even having a rough idea of where it went down might still mean that the wreckage is not found for a long time. There's a lotta damn ocean out there, and I don't think the range of the "pingers" on the data recorders is that huge.

One thing I've been curious about is the cockpit voice recorder on the 777, specifically what the recording duration is (is it just a 30m circular buffer) and can the pilots disable it and/or the flight data recorder by pulling circuit breakers?

G.

They haven't tracked it down (3, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46565381)

They have a theory, nothing more. Still no actual debris has been confirmed. They don't have the full picture so its REALLY easy for their theory to be wrong.

God you suck ass at actually posting facts slashdot.

Re:They haven't tracked it down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565589)

Gravity is a theory, nothing more. Perhaps the theories collided.

Re:They haven't tracked it down (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565665)

They have a theory, nothing more. Still no actual debris has been confirmed. They don't have the full picture so its REALLY easy for their theory to be wrong.

God you suck ass at actually posting facts slashdot.

You do realise Dice Holdings is behind /. these days, right? I mean their job listing website is so useless and their discussion forums continually pointed out the failure of Dice Holdings to post legitimate positions for at least 10 years so Dice Holdings shut-down those forums and redirect you to /. for career and industry insight. What a joke! More of India's "best and brightest" at work. Would someone kindly put a bullet in Obama's skull before the US descends into a full-on police state?

Coming in for a landing (1)

workdot (1056402) | about 9 months ago | (#46565395)

I am waiting for this plan to land at LAX 2 weeks later with all passengers in good health wondering why they landed in LAX instead of China and have no recollection of anything weird happening like something out of a Stephen King novel.

Re:Coming in for a landing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565561)

Want to see something REALLY scary?

a bit less specific (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#46565433)

While that explanation is detailed and great and accurate, the real answer is they found out they'd get free advertising through all the press coverage and spent a ton of time and money finding it. That's the short version at least.

Reciprocal course? (1)

Archtech (159117) | about 9 months ago | (#46565559)

I may be wrong, but looking at the map it seems the plane was on exactly the opposite course from where it should have been going. Strange problems are not unknown with computer-controlled navigation systems going haywire when crossing the Equator, and oddly enough MH370 went AWOL quite close to the Equator...

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2... [theregister.co.uk]

Re:Reciprocal course? (1)

Archtech (159117) | about 9 months ago | (#46565627)

Sorry, the story I linked to related to the International Date Line not the Equator. I was thinking of the much older stories about an F-14 or F-16 that flipped upside down when it crossed the Equator due to some software bug. Here is a reputable source for that (but only as a rumour): http://www.yourdonreport.com/i... [yourdonreport.com]

US Intel Said this on Day 1 (4, Interesting)

rockmuelle (575982) | about 9 months ago | (#46565573)

What's most interesting is that the anonymous reports from the US intelligence community the day after the plane disappeared said that the plane was on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. These claims seemed a little odd at the time since there was no supporting evidence at all and rescuers were still looking for debris on the original flight path. But, it's looking like they were spot on.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the only real conspiracy in this whole affair is the US govt's cover up of the initial leak. The plane itself likely just suffered a catastrophic failure and lumbered on until it ran out of fuel. But, the US govt also likely tracked it the entire time. That's why someone was able to make a confident pronouncement so quickly. They knew exactly where the plane was, if not exactly what happened. But, this intelligence capability (tracking all flying objects all the time) is probably highly classified. Rather than give it up for a civilian SAR effort, they decided to keep it under wraps, knowing that eventually the plane would be found and the capability is far more useful if no one knows it exists.

Doppler seems wierd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46565635)

The amount the time delay changes gives you the average velocity between pings from the satellite.
The doppler gives you the momentary velocity at the ping.

Not sure what adding the doppler give them.
      Or especially why it would discriminate between a N/S flight path.

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