Tech5 News: When Technology Is Not Enough

Ben HarrisonWhen Technology Is Not Enough


Good afternoon and welcome to another Tech 5 program and a five minute trip into the amazing world of technology. This is Ben Harrison. To those listeners who have even a bit of Irish blood in their veins, Happy St. Patrick’s Day


Nine days ago, on March 8th, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER; it was carrying 12 crew members and 227 passengers from 15 countries.

The Boeing 777 is generally regarded by aviation experts as having an “almost flawless” safety record, one of the best of any commercial aircraft. Its safety features are referred to as triple redundancy with three backup systems for its controls, computers and communication systems.

With hundreds of million dollars having been invested in development costs and an almost perfect safety record over the past 15 years, how is it possible for an aircraft that size, in constant contact with civilian, military and corporate ground and satellite reporting systems, to just disappear?


However, disappear it did!

Enter – some of the finest search and discovery technology by world renowned scientists and researchers in the world today either giving their opinion of probable causes or debunking the theories of others. Non-stop 24/7 searches by ships, planes, satellites, radar and sona,r looking for oil slick or debris from a crash site.


Outcome? Theories, dozens of theories from mid air explosion to being snatched by alien intruders; terrorist plots to hijackers; suicide plot by the chief pilot, to an attempted diversion to a landing at some remote unknown spot.


As the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane continues, questions persist about how in this day and technological age the plane could go undetected for so long. So far there are no answers: But it’s not for lack of trying.

There are an abundance of resources available: data sources aboard the plane itself, radar scopes on nearby ships, military and commercial imaging satellites. On Friday India began searching hundreds of uninhabited islands in the Andaman Sea using heat-seeking devices.

Other  technology being used in the hunt include:

Radar imaging
The main tracking tool for flights — missing or otherwise — is radar, which uses relay stations on the ground to emit radio waves that bounce off objects. The returning signal provides the location of the object, but tracking by radar becomes increasing difficult over open water as there are vast holes in radar coverage over large swaths of water.

This lack of coverage has made the search difficult. The search has now been expanded to include areas of the  Indian Ocean after Malaysian officials said they had established  that military radar had picked up the missing plane, spotting a blip moving west across the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca

Sonar imaging
When and if MH370 is found, it will likely be done so through Sonar. This underwater version of radar sends sound waves into water and uses the reflections to locate an object. Sonar was used to find the main section of Air France flight 447 after it crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil, 2.5 miles underwater.

Sonar will be used to locate “pingers” which will send a signal from the black box. The “ping” automatically goes off once a plane has crashed into water. There were reports that fishermen were joining the search and using their sonar to help locate the plane. Unfortunately the black box signals last only 30 days.

Satellite imaging
Satellite imaging company DigitalGlobe told it had redirected five of its satellites to the area to help scan the waters for signs of the missing planes.


Tried and true radio can also be used to locate a plane, as most systems will send a distress signal before they go down. In addition, most black boxes transmit a radio signal as well when a plane crashes. If the crash occurs over water, however the signal does not travel over a long range.

Pilots themselves are a key way for airplanes to stay in touch with air traffic controllers. The last-reported radio transmission from the cockpit of flight 370 was “Alright, good night,” just before the craft crossed into Vietnamese airspace.

Visual data
When high tech devices and systems fail to find a solution, we rely of human eyesight.

To find a missing plane, authorities carve up the search area into giant sections of land and sea. Airplanes and boats then scour individual cells of the grid looking for evidence of wreckage, or anything that might point to the plane’s whereabouts.

Because the area is so enormous — 35,000 square miles or so — the search is painstaking and slow


Will the plane be found? Ever? On land? At the bottom of an ocean? With every bit of high technology available, we hope so, but it appears that current technology does not have all the answers.

Until then the disappearance of Flight 370 will remain a great mystery, leaving the families and loved ones without closure and continuing to hope that some miracle will still find the plane intact with passengers alive.


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This is Ben Harrison from EEZEE Radio 91.1 AND 102.7 on your FM DIAL in St. Vincent and the Grenadines