Just a comment about what a terrible position this put the Malaysian
military in. They were backed into a corner and had to admit:
a) they were not monitoring radar returns in real time from targets not
broadcasting ACT beacons. Because if they were, they would have
admitted to trying to contact the target as the first in a series
of actions that any self-respecting military would or should take
b) because of (a), they did not scramble a jet to investigate the
This is why it took several days for the world to learn what data the
Malaysian military had. They knew they had radar data, but how to tell
the world - without revealing (a) and (b) above?
=========Flight 370 did a wide U-turn in the middle of the night over the Gulf of
Thailand and then spent nearly half an hour swooping over two large
Malaysian cities and various towns and villages, there was apparently
silence. As far as investigators have been able to determine, there have
been no phone calls, Twitter or Weibo postings, Instagram photos or any
other communication from anyone aboard the aircraft since it was
According to military radar, the aircraft was flying extremely high
shortly after its turn as much as 45,000 feet, above the certified
maximum altitude of 43,100 feet for the Boeing 777-200. It then
descended as it crossed Peninsular Malaysia, flying as low as 23,000
feet before moving up to 29,500 feet and cruising there.
The hijacked planes on Sept. 11 were flying very low toward urban
targets when passengers and flight attendants made calls from those
aircraft. Base station signals spread out considerably over distance.
So cellphones in a plane a few miles up, like Flight 370, would receive
little if any signal. Base station design has improved since the Sept.
11 attacks to provide better, more focused coverage of specific areas on
the ground. But that also means somewhat less signal intensity is wasted
in directions where callers are unlikely to be located, such as directly
Cellphones transmit at one watt or less, while base stations typically
transmit at 20 watts and sometimes much more. So even if a cellphone
showed that it was receiving a signal while aloft, it might not be able
to transmit a signal that was strong enough to make a connection. The
metal in an aircraft reduces cellphone signals somewhat. If a passenger
had pressed a cellphone against a plastic window with a line of sight to
a cellphone tower then it is possible a connection might have been made
even at a fairly high altitude, because plastic barely blocks a
cellphone signal at all.
So it's possible given a phone held in contact with a window might have
been able to transmit a text message to a line-of-sight tower, even if
the plane was 20k feet in the air. It seems likely that such a geometry
did exist for some period of time. If no such transmission took place,
a) passengers were alive, but unaware there was anything wrong with
the flight to try such measures to make contact using their phone
b) passengers were alive, did realize the plane was being taken off
course, but did not try the cell-phone-against-the-window trick,
(or they did try but it didn't work)
c) passengers were unconcious or dead when in range of cell phone
I can say that GPS reception in a plane works somewhat well, given the
unit is near a window. An old unit I have (Garmin Geko, circa
2004/2005) needs to be pressed up against a plane's window in order to
get a GPS fix. A newer model (like a car GPS, TomTom 1400 or Garmin
Nuvi) can still get a fix even when placed on the seat-back tray of a
window seat. FM radio reception works quite well, even when sitting in
an isle seat in a large plane. AM radio reception does not work at all,
even if the radio is pressed against a window.
I've made it a habbit of using a GPS of one sort or another on at least
half of the flights I've been on since 2005. I've programmed the
coordinates of every airport that I've flown to (or from) and when
landing, on approach, I can even predict which runway I'm lined up for.
Had I been on that flight (and I can hear the wise cracks now) I would
have known we were off course, and at what altitude we were at (yes, my
Geko tells me that).
============Many aircraft carry satellite phones, and the Malaysia Airlines jet was
equipped with them in business class. The plane continued to send
satellite pings for nearly seven hours after it was apparently diverted.
But the satellite phones are part of an aircrafts in-flight
entertainment system. If someone deliberately diverted a plane and
turned off its transponder and other communications equipment, that
person is likely to have disabled the in-flight entertainment system so
that passengers could not figure out from the map that they were flying
in the wrong direction, said a telecommunications expert who insisted on
anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media.
If the entertainment system was turned off, the satellite phones also
would not work, the expert said.
The only question here is this: Can the entertainment system be turned
on from outside the cockpit - or is there a master power switch for the
system in the cockpit?
One thing is clear - once the system is turned off from cockpit, the
crew will be trying to find out what's wrong with it, and will be trying
to contact the pilots in the (presumably locked) cockpit. For how long
that could happen - who knows.
What the world should learn from this is that there should be an
alternate communications radio in the tail of passenger planes THAT
CAN'T BE TURNED OFF FROM THE COCKPIT.
==============Investigators do not know if anyone aboard the plane even tried to make
a call. One theory is that someone may have intentionally depressurized
the plane as it soared to an unusually high altitude right after the
turnaround, which would have quickly rendered passengers and flight
attendants unconscious, pilots said. Whoever diverted the plane could
have disabled the release of oxygen masks.
Now there is the block-buster. The release of passenger oxygen masks
can be disabled from the cockpit? That makes the following all the more
========Dr. James Ho, an associate professor of medicine at Hong Kong
University, said that death could come within minutes if someone were
the equivalent of outdoors at 45,000 feet. But without information on
the speed of depressurization, it is hard to predict the medical
consequences, he said.
A table used by pilots for time of useful consciousness without an
oxygen supplement at various altitudes shows only nine to 15 seconds at
45,000 feet, compared with five to 10 minutes at 22,000 feet.
So we have a plane-load of dead people.
========Mobile phone service is widely available in sizable areas of western
China and eastern Kazakhstan, raising the question of why nobody from
the plane has tried to make a call if it did fly north and land safely,
instead of flying out into the Indian Ocean until it ran out of fuel.
Because they were all dead. Or if not, and if it landed, it landed
somewhere where it was known there is no functional cell towers. Or it
crashed (on land or water) or while trying to make a controlled landing