MH370 key detail found in plane's 'curious' satcom: 'Great significance'

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Today, it has been eight years since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from radars not long after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. What happened to the flight and the 239 on board is unknown. Several pieces of debris belonging to it have been found over the years on the coast of Africa and on various Indian Ocean islands just off of Africa, the first discovered in July 2015.

The materials have only prompted further theories and more questions as to what exactly happened to the Boeing 777-200ER and its passengers.

Some people, many amateurs, have dedicated their lives to finding MH370’s resting place.

As recently as December, British engineer Richard Godfrey — who has spent seven years researching the case — claimed to have pinpointed the exact location of the airliner: about 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) west of Perth, Western Australia.

A large-scale search with his location data has not yet been carried out, and so the mystery remains unsolved for now.

Flight MH370: It is one of the world's greatest unsolved mysteries

Flight MH370: It is one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries (Image: GETTY)

Mystery: The family and friends of those who were onboard flight MH370 still have no answers

Mystery: The family and friends of those who were onboard flight MH370 still have no answers (Image: GETTY)

Investigative journalists have also picked up the case, including Jeff Wise, author of The Plane That Wasn’t There.

Writing in his 2016 book, he said investigators faced a huge surprise after finding out that the flight’s satcom was turned off after the plane initially disappeared, but then switched back on again.

At 18:03 UTC, a satellite tried to make contact with MH370 but received no response, but at 18:35 it initiated a log-on itself, meaning it was coming back online.

This data was obtained by British telecommunications company Inmarsat, whose satellite 3F1 had been in communication with MH370 during its final hours.

Mr Wise wrote: “Another detail of the Inmarsat data seemed a curiosity at first but in time would be recognised as having great significance.

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Debris: Snippets of material from the Boeing 777-200ER have been found in the Indian Ocean area

Debris: Snippets of material from the Boeing 777-200ER have been found in the Indian Ocean area (Image: GETTY)

“We had always assumed that while the transponder and radios had gone dark shortly after ‘Goodnight Malaysia Airlines 370’ [the last words spoken by the pilot over radio], the satcom system had remained active.

“After all, whoever took the plane never used the satcom.

“They probably had no idea that its intermittent handshake exchanges could be used to track the plane, since the technique hadn’t been invented yet.

“But lo and behold, looking at the fine print of the Inmarsat data log, we saw that in fact the system had been turned off and then back on again.

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MH370 family: Grace Subathirai Nathan, daughter of a passenger, holds debris found in Madagascar

MH370 family: Grace Subathirai Nathan, daughter of a passenger, holds debris found in Madagascar (Image: GETTY)

Missing people: A photograph showing two missing children who were passengers

Missing people: A photograph showing two missing children who were passengers (Image: GETTY)

“At 18:03, 42 minutes after the plane disappeared from air traffic control, radar the satellite tried to put through a text message. MH370’s satcom hadn’t responded.

“Then 22 minutes later at 18:25, MH370 initiated a log-on with Inmarsat. It was coming back online.”

This suggested that the plane had not gone dark because of an electrical disaster.

Researchers determined that, following the satellite communications system being turned back on over the Malacca Strait, the plane likely flew on for no more than 15 minutes before making a final turn south.

Indonesia: A fisherman shows the GPS tracker he claims he used to find the plane's location, 2019

Indonesia: A fisherman shows the GPS tracker he claims he used to find the plane’s location, 2019 (Image: GETTY)

From 19:41 UTC, its flight path matched a straight line, indicating that it was in autopilot.

But it is still unclear why the pilot would turn the satcom off and then back on.

The detail added yet another mystery to the already puzzling and disjointed narrative.

In December, when Mr Godfrey announced his latest discovery, he told a number of publications that he hoped his work would be able to provide “closure” to the families, who have for years been unable to find an answer about their lost loved ones.

Questions: Many questions remain over what exactly happened to flight MH370

Questions: Many questions remain over what exactly happened to flight MH370 (Image: GETTY)

Combining different data sets that were previously kept in seperate domains, he aligned the new location in the southern Indian Ocean.

Mr Godfrey told the BBC it was a “complicated exercise”, but previously there was simply a lack of lateral thinking, across multiple disciplines, to bring this together.

He said: “No one had the idea before to combine Inmarsat satellite data, with Boeing performance data, with Oceanographic floating debris drift data, with WSPR [computer program] net data.”

The exact point determined by data calculations is around 33 degrees south and 95 degrees east in the Indian Ocean.

Two extensive searches have been carried out in the Indian Ocean to find MH370, but neither yielded conclusive results.



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