As the search for the Malaysia Airlines jetliner expands to include the Indian Ocean, a satellite firm confirmed today that it recorded “keep alive” signals from the plane after it went missing. Signals like these could estimate the plane’s location.
The information from the company, Inmarsat, could prove to be the first big break in helping narrow the frustrating search for the plane with 239 people aboard that mysteriously disappeared from radar screens a week ago, now hunted by a multinational array of ships and planes that have fanned out for thousands of square miles.
David Coiley, the vice president of Inmarsat, said the communications provider had equipment aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight. The New York Times reported:
"It does allow us to determine where the airplane is relative to the satellite," he said of the signal, which he likened to the "noises you might hear when a cellphone sits next to a radio or a television speaker." He said: "It does allow us to narrow down the position of the aircraft" -- at moment when the signal was sent. Such equipment automatically checks in to satellites, much as a mobile phone would check in to a network after passing through a mountain tunnel, he said. Because the pings go over a measurable distance at a specific angle to one of the company's satellites, the information can be used to help calculate the trajectory of an aircraft and narrow down its approximate location -- though not necessarily its resting point.
Authorities have extended their search to include the Indian Ocean, after “technical indicators” suggested that the plane continued to fly—potentially for hours—after its radar signal was lost.
CNN is also reporting that authorities are looking into the chance that lithium batteries in the cargo hold could have played a role in the disappearance of the flight:
As part of the investigation, officials are looking into concerns that lithium batteries in the cargo hold, which have been blamed in previous crashes, could have played a role in the disappearance, according to U.S. officials briefed on the latest intelligence and law enforcement developments in the investigation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to the media.
Read more updates here.