British Satellite Company Played Key Role Tracking Missing Jet

A British satellite company played a key role in tracking the last hours of the missing Malaysian passenger jet and determining that it plunged into the southern Indian Ocean.

While announcing the most likely fate of the aircraft Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak credited the Inmarsat company with helping solve the two-week mystery of where Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 ended up.

Chris McLaughlin, an Inmarsat senior vice president, told VOA in London that based on a ping sound from the aircraft the last known position of the Boeing 777 was over the southern Indian Ocean. That was hundreds of kilometers from the waters where several countries initially spent days searching for the jet north and then to the west of Malaysia.

A sympathy message is displayed at the webpage of the Malaysia Airlines website, in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 25, 2014. /AP A sympathy message is displayed at the webpage of the Malaysia Airlines website, in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 25, 2014. /AP

"The last known position of a ping was way over the southern Indian Ocean, with no landfall and no long runways, obviously, around it," he said. "The distance to Perth [Australia] was far further than the remaining fuel would allow after seven hours. The range simply wasn’t there."

The Inmarsat executive said the key for engineers examining the satellite data was when they realized they were hearing several pings from the aircraft and that it was still flying south over the Indian Ocean.

"The eureka moment for them [the engineers] was when not only did they realize that they had one ping, but they had several, and that the aircraft was moving," he said. "And then it’s been a process of digging deep into the data thereafter to build a picture, if not a final solution, at least a picture."

But McLaughlin says that while the world now knows the plane crashed, it still does not know exactly where.

He says, "We absolutely are not saying that we know exactly where this aircraft may have ended its days, but we are saying that we know the direction is south, that it is in that southern ocean area, and that we can give you a general area to look."

VOA News / Mar. 25, 2014 08:11 KST