The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 28, 2014

Technology hindered, helped search for Flight 370

NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

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.

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.

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