Flight 370, the Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished without a trace on March 8, is believed to lie somewhere in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, and that is where searchers are concentrating their $52 million efforts. The undertaking is based largely on data from the British satellite company Inmarsat, whose satellite was the only means of tracking the plane once it shut off all other forms of communication.
But now, Inmarsat says it isn't so sure about its data after all — data that provides what is currently the only hope of figuring out what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 239 human beings on board.
"MH370 changed course shortly after it passed the Northern tip of Sumatra and travelled in a southerly direction until it ran out of fuel in the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia," says a group of Inmarsat analysts in a new paper just published in The Journal of Navigation. "But it is stressed that the sensitivity of the reconstructed flight path to frequency errors is such that there remains significant uncertainty in the final location."The Inmarsat data emerged on March 15, a week after the still-mysterious disappearance of Flight 370. While the plane had, for reasons still unknown, shut down both its primary and secondary radar as well as voice communication and all other ways of contacting the plane from the ground, Flight 370 continued to send a "handshake" or "ping" message to the Inmarsat satellite.
The plane sent one "ping" to the satellite approximately every 60 minutes. From those signals, investigators who previously believed the plane crashed into the South China Sea were able to determine the eerie fact that Flight 370 took a sharp westerly turn — and flew for another seven hous with no apparent destination.
For reasons that investigators have not been able to fathom, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 flew until it reached a remote region of the Indian Ocean.
But in anther bizarre twist, the Flight 370 plane "changed course shortly after it passed the Northern tip of Sumatra," the Inmarsat report says.
The analysts also concluded that "the aircraft navigation system was operational since the terminal needs information on location and track to keep its antenna pointing towards the satellite."
In other words, the satellite data may suggest that someone was still in control of the missing Flight 370 even hours after it disappeared. But why the Malaysia Airlines plane would have changed course a second time, remains a puzzle.The report also raises the question as to why someone was keeping the navigation system working, even though every other system was switched off. Was someone on board attempting to guide Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to a specific location?
As searchers continue their all-out effort to locate the plane on the previously unmapped floor of the Indian Ocean, the new Inmarsat report suggests that they may be looking in the wrong place after all.