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Malaysia Airlines: Did technology hinder or help search for Flight MH370?

Mar 28 2014, 15:19 IST
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A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft is pictured in the sunset twilight after returning from a search flight for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, near Perth. Reuters A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft is pictured in the sunset twilight after returning from a search flight for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, near Perth. Reuters
SummaryDisappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has presented two tales of modern technology.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has presented two tales of modern technology.

The limitations of tracking and communications devices allowed the plane to vanish from sight for nearly three weeks. But satellites' advanced capabilities have provided hope that the mystery won't go unsolved.

Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370: Live updates

In this day and age of constant connection, the public has been surprised to learn that radar and satellites aren't actually all-seeing, cellphone locations aren't always traceable and key data about the plane is only recorded, not transmitted in real time to the ground. And onboard tracking systems can be disabled manually - one theory holds that someone in the cockpit intentionally diverted the plane and disguised their actions.

''Technology can track a flight, but assuming malice was involved, it wouldn't change the outcome of this disaster. Only better human intelligence and screening can do that,'' said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant with the Teal Group.

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Still, the mystery of Flight 370 would have been even more perplexing if it wasn't for some of these technologies. The little information we have today about where the plane might have crashed came from satellites.

''If it weren't for the technologies, nobody would have had a clue where to look,'' said Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham Co.

Here is a look at how old and new technologies have aided or hindered the search effort.

TRANSPONDERS

These cockpit devices send signals to radar stations on the ground with details about the plane's flight number, heading, speed and altitude. The transponder also can be used to send predetermined messages to air traffic controllers. For instance, if a plane's transponder squawks out a code of ''7500'' it means there has been a hijacking. A squawk of ''7600'' refers to a radio failure and ''7700'' means an emergency.

Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at 12:40 a.m. local time on March 8, heading to Beijing. Then at 1:20 a.m., the transponder stopped transmitting. The Boeing 777-200ER with 239 passengers and crew aboard kept flying for several hours but no further signals were ever received from the transponder.

It's rare for a commercial pilot to intentionally turn off a transponder during flight, but occasionally there is a legitimate reason, such as a malfunction,

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