NEW YORK (CNN) – We are getting new details about the communications between Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and a British commercial satellite. It could give us more clues as to what happened onboard, as well as what the plane’s final moments may have been like.
From the moment Malaysia Flight 370 took off it was communicating with a satellite, orbiting more than 22 thousand miles above Earth, sending out pings or electronic handshakes to say “I’m here and ok.”
“The ping is really like your cell phone checking that it’s connected with the cell phone network,” said Tim Farrar, a satellite technology consultant.
Between 12:30 and 1 AM local time, as the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur and ascended, there were three pings recorded, initiated by the aircraft itself. All normal stuff.
“The first three pings are messages which are carrying the data about the performance of the engines on the plane,” said Farrar.
At 1:19 AM, the co-pilot sends his final message to air traffic control.
“All right, good night.”
Then the transponder, which identifies the plane to civilian radar, stops communicating. Between 1:21 and 1:28 AM, radar shows the plane makes a sharp left turn, then dips as low as 12 thousand feet.
At 2:22 AM, as the plane appears to be making another turn, the satellite then picks up three more electronic pings, one right after the other in the span of just a few minutes.
“It looks like it were initiated by the plane because the plane had lost contact with the satellite network. After that quick turn maybe the plane banked sharply,” said Farrar.
Whatever happened is seemingly resolved. As Malaysia 370 sends hourly pings, or handshakes at 3:40 AM, 4:40 AM, 5:40 AM, 6:40 AM, and 8:11 AM.
“…The hourly pings is really just the network checking that everything going on…that sort of indicates the plane is flying smoothly,” said Farrar.
Then something very unusual happens. A partial ping, just 8 minutes later, recorded at 8:19 AM. The last electronic signal before the plane disappears.
“The plane wasn’t able to communicate back again and so the handshaking wasn’t completed … The plane must of turned sharply or stalled or died…something to cause the terminal on top of the plane to be pointed away from the satellite and then to try and reestablish contact,” said Farrar.
Aviation analyst Tim Farrar says the new ‘ping’ data is significant for two reasons:
One is that the consecutive burst of pings happened mid-flight and again in the final moments, which could indicate a reoccurring problem with the plane.
Secondly, the analyst says if we know the precise time the plane lost its ability to communicate and went down, investigators can dramatically narrow the search area.