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Red herring in hunt for MH370 highlights air traffic flaws

(Reuters) - Fresh questions have been raised over air traffic co-ordination after a preliminary report on the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared almost two months ago revealed 90 minutes of wasted effort while controllers looked in the wrong country.

While Flight MH370's disappearance has led to calls for real-time tracking, it has also re-focused attention on the gap between what controllers sometimes think and see, which complicated early efforts to find Air France 447 in 2009.

Some 25 minutes after the Malaysian jet was first reported missing over the Gulf of Thailand on March 8, the airline told controllers that it had flown onto Cambodian airspace. It later added it had been able to exchange signals, the report said.

Half an hour later, the airline reassured controllers that the Boeing 777 was in a "normal condition" based on a signal placing it even further east, on the other side of Vietnam.

In fact, by then it had flown back west across Malaysia and was already on a new southerly course thought to have taken it across the tip of Indonesia and towards the Indian Ocean, where investigators believe it crashed with 239 people on board.

The false trail appears to have cost controllers time, according to maps and a chronology released on Thursday.

Unnoticed by civil controllers because its transponder was switched off, and deemed no threat by a military radar controller, the aircraft flew back across Malaysia and the Malacca Straits for an hour while the airline believed it was in Cambodian and then Vietnamese airspace.

The airline later told controllers the information had been based on a "projection" and was not reliable, according to the report.

Malaysia Airlines could not be reached for comment.

The confusion echoes a fumble when Air France 447 vanished over the Atlantic five years ago. Controllers at first mistook a virtual flight path for the plane's actual course, according to an official report, which may have delayed a search operation.

In both cases, people on the ground were looking only at projections when they thought they were looking at real data.


Both events illustrate the problems in handling a growing amount of air traffic crossing through remote areas, where controllers and dispatchers sometimes have to fill in the blanks by anticipating where an aircraft should be.

"It is a natural consequence of the old traditional industry ways, which are limited by communications capability," said air traffic control expert Hans Weber, president of U.S.-based consultancy TECOP International.

Experts say such methods are not necessarily unsafe because controllers simply compensate for uncertainty by leaving a bigger "bubble" of vacant space around a jet to avoid collision. But that can also lead to delays and greater congestion.

"Controllers anticipate where a plane's next call should come from: that is what they do because that is all they have to work with," said Weber.

Many private satellite firms are offering flight tracking services, but analysts say they face problems of capacity due to sharp rises in global air traffic expected over coming years.

Such issues could be overtaken by broader plans for a radical overhaul of air traffic control in the next decade in the United States and Europe, using satellites. But the schemes are costly and have not yet been widely adopted elsewhere.

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#1fisherman May 02 2014 at 8:26 AM

People don't understand what the searchers are up against. The plane is there, where they are looking. They have a grid mapped out, ( and or haystack ) that they have to scan, with the yellow sub. The sub goes back ,and fourth, like you useing your lawnmower in your yard. The scan will draw a picture of the bottom, and when it get over it, it will draw the plane on the bottom. This takes a lot of time. A slow process. This is for the people who don't understand pressure & depth under water. For every 33 ft you go down under water,there is 14.7 pounds of pressure put on you. At 333 ft, the pressure on you would be 147 lbs on you. Now for 15,000 ft down, there would be 6,673 point 8 lbs of pressure, put on you. Do you get it yet? No sub could go down there,unless it was made of solid metal. That plane is crushed like a stepped on beer can. Any thing inside the plane that floats,would be held by the compressed metal. Now along with that, there's total blackness.
Theory: Nobody really no's anybody, but if you tried to get the best info on someone's mind, and or personality, you would ask close friends .Not a wife, friends that bond. The pilots friends said ( also fellow pilots ), he was crushed about his wife leaving him, and he should not have been flying that plane ! Many other problems started building. There was no one else on that plane, that could pull this off , but the pilot! The ace pilot! He wanted the plane never to be found, and if it wasn't for the engines, sending signals to the satellite, they would never know where to begin to look. A person seems to be, not always what he seems to be

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ohioh111b111y #1fisherman May 02 2014 at 10:18 AM

Fisherman: I guess we expect more of black boxes and surveillance equipment than this giant plane being able to disappear without a trace off the planet...

I agree with you on the Pilot. I did not know that his wife was leaving him but I did know his political friend had been sentenced to prison the day his family "left the family home". It simply had to be him OR there are Govts involved in this. I would actually guess that the USA is one of them. Just like the JFK assassination, we will find out the truth, but only when we are too old and tired to adequately get justice for the families.

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honeyrose3332 #1fisherman May 02 2014 at 10:55 AM

I agree with most of what you are saying, and yes, water holds a tremendous amount of pressure. I believe that plane is in the ocean, somewhere, but don't understand why they waited so long to bring in the ping locator and unmanned sub. In my opinion way too much time was used up searching for debris on the ocean surface. The ocean is full of garbage and the fish/marine life didn't put it there, but man did.

I think it's possible this exploration company that said they thought they may have found the plane did in fact find it there in the ocean, but those in charge of the Malaysian search debunked that rather quickly and someone should find out why. It took 2 years to find the Air France plane in the ocean and they will find Flight 370 there someday too.

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hway395 honeyrose3332 May 02 2014 at 11:08 AM

honeyrose3332, we have to keep in mind that Inmarsat's *running* engines electronics & satellites are what got them to the current search area. While I'd like for them to search BoB, standing outside looking in, I believe the head honchos making the decisions feel strongly that they have to stick w/their current search area(s). That doesn't make them correct, because things *can & do* go wrong w/electronics, but from the financial & resources available side of the situation, I guess they'll stick w/Inmarsat's data.

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joebair honeyrose3332 May 02 2014 at 11:31 PM

The two years is not a real time. Most of that time was spent over
legal issues and lead search. The time actually spent on the
search was 12 weeks.

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