Malaysia Airlines MH370 – Inmarsat Satellites Provide Some Clues

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March 26, 2014

Although the cause of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370 remains a mystery, apparently the ultimate fate of the airliner does not. Based on intense analysis of satellite data provided by the British satellite communications company INMARSAT, the Malaysian government has concluded light MH370 terminated in the Southern Indian Ocean.

In a March 24th press release, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stated that, through the use of “Doppler” analysis provided by INMARSAT, which has “never before been used in an investigation of this sort”, Inmarsat engineers concluded that the plane’s last known position was in the middle of the Southern Indian Ocean, some nautical 1500 miles Southwest of Perth, Australia.

Prime Minister Razak went on to say that “This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must conclude that flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.” There can be no survivors.

INMARSAT’s  assistance in the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was enlisted almostinmarsat satellite immediately after the aircraft disappeared. Although ACAR, the main Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, had been apparently disabled by the cockpit crew, one of Inmarsat’s geostationary satellites continued to receive a series of automated hourly ‘pings’ from a terminal on the plane. Analysis of these pings established that MH370 continued flying for at least five hours after the aircraft left Malaysian airspace

“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. “That’s never been done before; our engineers came up with it as a unique contribution.” Although this information was relayed to Malaysian officials almost immediately after flight MH370 disappeared, there was a delay of several days before officials redirected the search efforts to include the area described by the satellite data.

Meanwhile, Inmarsat’s engineers continued to analyze the pings and developed a much moredetailed Doppler affect model for two possible paths that the aircraft may have flown. They were able to establish an “extraordinary matching” between Inmarsat’s predicted path 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.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the passengers and crew of Flight MH370.