The Data-Driven Quest to Find Flight MH370

Apr 7, 2014 in Community Support

Ever since the March 8 scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport went missing one hour after takeoff, the tragic mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has dominated headlines. While the Malaysian government announced on March 24 that the aircraft crashed in the southern Indian Ocean “beyond any reasonable doubt,” an international search team continues its work to determine what happened to the flight and track down any traces of the aircraft itself—and these efforts are being driven by data collection.

For one, investigators have reams of radar data to assess; and with new particulars being uncovered nearly every day, search teams are constantly redirecting and refining their areas of focus accordingly. Take the radar data concerning the velocity of the aircraft recently reported by Wired, which indicates that the plane was traveling at a greater speed than originally surmised and therefore would have exhausted its fuel supply sooner. “The new lead,” the magazine notes, “prompted a sudden change in focus to an area 685 miles northeast of where everyone had been searching.” Here, data collection is playing an absolutely crucial role in determining the MH370 search zone.

In addition to airplanes and ships from the United States, Australia, Malaysia, China, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan, the British nuclear submarine HMS Tireless has recently joined the search in the hopes that the unique types of military hydrographic and oceanographic data it collects will enable initial findings of MH370 debris. The essential piece of debris that the submarine may be able to uncover, as the BBC reports, is the plane’s black box, which contains a plethora of flight path and cockpit voice communication data that would allow investigators to determine a simulation of the flight.

As the search continues, the confounding case of the missing MH370 has led to calls for reform in flight data transmission—particularly that black box records be sent to data centers on the ground in real time. Malaysia’s communications minister, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, has led this charge to improve flight data collection. As quoted in The Guardian, he explains, “[W]e should be able to retrieve and analyze this data without necessarily locating the black box . . . I cannot help but note that whilst communications technologies have evolved drastically in the past five years, the story of the black box remains unchanged from 30 years ago.”

As we’ve seen, the search for MH370 has mobilized the global community to collect and analyze all manner of data points to piece together an understanding of what happened to the Boeing 777 carrying 12 Malaysian crewmembers and 227 passengers from 14 nations. Our thoughts are with their families, and here at GoSpotCheck, we are solemnly heartened by stirrings of a welcomed overhaul to flight data transmission procedures. We are hopeful that the search parties and governments involved will be able to uncover more intelligence on the location of the plane, using available data sources, in the days and weeks to come.