UPDATE 3-Satellites picked up "pings" from Malaysia jet, sources say

Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:28pm EDT

By Mark Hosenball, Andrea Shalal and Tim Hepher

WASHINGTON/PARIS, March 13 (Reuters) - Communications satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no information about where the stray jet was heading and little else about its fate, two sources close to the investigation said on Thursday.

But the "pings" indicated that the aircraft's maintenance troubleshooting systems were switched on and ready to communicate with satellites, showing the aircraft, with 239 people on board, was at least capable of communicating after it lost touch with Malaysian air traffic controllers.

The system transmits such pings about once an hour, according to the sources, who said five or six were heard. However, the pings alone are not proof that the plane was in the air or on the ground, the sources said.

While the troubleshooting systems were functioning, no data links were opened, the sources said, because the companies involved had not subscribed to that level of service from the satellite operator.

Boeing Co, which made the missing 777 airliner, and Rolls-Royce, which supplied its Trent engines, declined to comment.

Earlier Malaysian officials denied reports that the aircraft had continued to send technical data and said there was no evidence that it flew for hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers early Saturday after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

The Wall Street Journal had reported that U.S. aviation investigators and national security officials believed the Boeing 777 flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from its engines as part of a standard monitoring program.

Sources familiar with the investigation reiterated that neither Boeing nor Rolls-Royce had received any engine maintenance data from the jet after the point at which its pilots last made contact.

There is still no evidence that demonstrates the plane's disappearance five days ago was related to foul play, U.S. security sources stressed, though the officials said they still have not ruled out the possibility of terrorism.


Modern aircraft can communicate with airline operations bases and sometimes with the headquarters of its manufacturers automatically to send maintenance alerts known as ACARS messages. It was this system that sent out the hourly pings, apparently over several hours, the sources said.

But Malaysia Airlines had not signed up for an expanded service that is based on the system and can send information such as updated flight plans and position reports, people familiar with the matter told Reuters this week, .

In the past such data was sent via radio links, but in recent years, airlines have begun using satellites to transmit the information more reliably.

Oliver McGee, a former senior U.S. Transportation Department official and professor of mechanical engineering at Howard University in Washington, said the pings by themselves would not necessarily help locate the plane. Data about the engine's fuel burn, weight and other aspects of its performance is needed to help determine how far the airplane had traveled, he said.

"It depends on the data coming from the engines," McGee said. "If you have no reliable source of what information you are reading, you can not get the range, air speed or time traveled."

He cautioned that the aircraft could continue to generate the signals, even if it had crashed, depending on any damage to the aircraft and its engines.

Mark Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the aircraft would continue generating the signals even if it was on the ground, unless the system had shut down.

Honeywell International Inc makes the components that go into the ACARS system on Boeing 777s, but a different service provider sets them up to communicate with the airlines, said one industry source familiar with the system.

Each airline determines how it wants the system to work and under what circumstances, said the source, noting that some carriers receive messages when the plane is using auxiliary power, while others want updates only when the aircraft's engines are running.

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Comments (4)
Renoman69 wrote:
Congratulations on finding a needle in a hay stack, this is truly amazing.

Mar 13, 2014 5:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jsbond007 wrote:
The Iranians stole it! They would fly it over water to evade radar. Why a 777, they will rig transponder to mimic a valid flight from another country after they have shot it down and equipped this 777 with nuclear warhead or material and just fly into any airspace they want – probably USA. The two youngsters w/ stolen passports probably tech wiz to disable stuff and maybe pilot – the co-pilot was know to lax security measures and had previously allowed passengers to enter cockpit. All this leading to theft of a jumbo jet. Don’t laugh – they hacked a US military drone and got it to land in Iran without the US knowing about it.

Mar 13, 2014 9:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Well hmm, if there were indeed 6 pings heard, then may be the plane flew under the radar and is now hiding in a hangar somewhere in
Havadarya Airport / or Bandar Abbas Int’l Airport in Iran,

or if it was 5 pings, it might be in a Hangar at Karachi Airport in Pakistan.

Guessworked conclusion arrived at by using the cruising speed of a
777 of about 550 mph, and figuring that it would have flown under the radar, around the Indian subcontinent, towards Iran or Pakistan.
The next thing to guess at might be that this plane is to be used for another terror attack, somewhere. Of course, this might be wrong. Google Earth makes it easy to be this wrong.

Mar 14, 2014 6:19am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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