Experts Have Narrowed Down the Location of the Missing Flight to This One Little Circle

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 13 2014 4:41 PM

Everything We Know About the Location of the Missing Flight, in One Map

It’s been almost six days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. Since then, we’ve seen a frantic search by multiple governments, militaries, and aviation authorities, with each new day bringing fresh revelations about where the plane might or might not have gone after it winked off of the radar. After all that time, all those conflicting reports, and all the resources devoted to the search, you’d think we might be homing in on it. Instead, the process has been more like taking an introductory class in philosophy: the more you learn, the less you know.  And Thursday brought perhaps the most dumbfounding news yet: The search area is being expanded once more, this time to the wide, blue Indian Ocean.

At this point, it is safe to say that we know exactly one thing with any certainty as to the whereabouts of Flight 370. It is almost definitely, quite probably, without much doubt, located somewhere within this one little greenish circle:

Malaysia Airlines missing plane map: flight radius includes Indian Ocean
Well, that narrows it down!

Graphic by Slate, map courtesy Google Maps

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How do we know that? Well, the Wall Street Journal cited Pentagon sources saying that the plane sent satellite signals indicating that it remained in the air for up to four hours after its last sighting, over the Gulf of Thailand. That would give it an additional range of about 2,200 nautical miles, which is the radius of the circle above. Malaysian authorities have denied those reports, compounding the confusion. Still, those numbers at least represent a plausible upper bound on the search radius. They’re also consistent with the assumption that the plane left Kuala Lumpur with enough fuel to reach Beijing, which is about 2,350 nautical miles (or 2,700 miles) away.

That said, it’s also conceivable that the flight could have had significantly more than enough fuel to make that trip, which would only widen the circle further.

The point is, after six days, we know pretty much nothing, and the plane could be pretty much anywhere. How’s that for detective work?

Previously in Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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