Slatest PM: The Simple Computer Upgrade That Could Have Solved the MH370 Mystery

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 19 2014 4:47 PM

Slatest PM: The Simple Computer Upgrade That Could Have Helped Solved the MH370 Mystery

479472571-passenger-walks-before-the-air-traffic-control-tower-at
A passenger walks before the Air traffic control tower at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur on March 19, 2014

Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

A Simple Computer Upgrade: Washington Post: "A simple computer upgrade that Malaysia Airlines decided not to purchase would have provided critical information to help find the airliner that disappeared 11 days ago. The upgrade ... would have provided investigators with the direction, speed and altitude of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 even after other communications from the plane went dark, said a satellite industry official familiar with the equipment. Data from a similar computer upgrade allowed investigators in the 2009 crash of an Air France jet liner to quickly narrow their search area ... and in five days they found floating evidence of the crash. ... The new information indicates that had the upgrade for a system called Swift been installed [on Flight 370], it would have continued to send flight data by satellite even after the plane’s transponder and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) communications went dead."

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The Cost: WaPo, again: "Many major airlines use the full package of Swift options. The detail it provides is mandated under international aviation guidelines for airlines that ply the busy North Atlantic corridor between the United States and Europe. There are no such requirements elsewhere in the world, the industry official said. ... The application wholesales for about $10 per flight, but airlines pay a higher retail fee. Some airlines have decided they do not want to pay the higher cost for an information stream that they deem unnecessary except under the most extreme circumstances. Zainul Zawawi, area vice president for North American operations at Malaysia Airlines, said he was not authorized to speak about the missing flight and referred questions to airline officials in Malaysia. Efforts to reach those officials were not successful."

Enter the FBI: New York Times: "The Malaysian authorities have asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation for help in recovering data that was deleted from a home flight simulator belonging to one of the pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, in the hope that it will provide some clue to what happened to the plane. The expansion of the American role in the investigation came as governments struggled to narrow down the vast search zone for the plane, which stretches across two hemispheres.... To speed its efforts, the F.B.I. will probably make copies of the simulator’s hard drive and have its contents digitally relayed back to agents and analysts in the United States who specialize in retrieving deleted computer files. ... Unless the pilot used extremely sophisticated technology to erase files, the F.B.I. is likely to be able to retrieve them. It was not clear whether the Malaysians have asked American law enforcement officials for help with any other parts of their inquiry."

It's Wednesday, March 19th, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest.

Crimea Update: Reuters: "The United States warned Moscow it was on a 'dark path' to isolation on Wednesday after Russian troops stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol and raised their flag. The dramatic seizure came as Russia and the West dug in for a long confrontation over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, with the United States and Europe groping for ways to increase pressure on a defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin. ... United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon meets Putin in Moscow on Thursday and travels to Kiev on Friday. He will urge a peaceful end to a crisis that began when Ukraine's president abandoned a trade pact with the European Union and turned instead to Moscow, prompting violent street protests that led to his overthrow. ... Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of Russia by the end of the week, despite threats of further sanctions from Washington and Brussels."

Toyota's Record Settlement: Associated Press: "Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle an investigation by the U.S. government, admitting that it hid information about defects that caused Toyota and Lexus vehicles to accelerate unexpectedly and resulted in injuries and deaths. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the penalty is the largest of its kind ever imposed on an auto company. The four-year criminal investigation focused on whether Toyota promptly reported the problems related to unintended acceleration. The company admitted to misleading consumers and regulators by assuring them that it had addressed the problems—which became public in 2009 following a car crash in San Diego that killed a family of four—through a limited safety recall of certain models."

Surprise Bin Laden Testimony: NBC News: "Osama bin Laden's son-in-law Suleiman Abu Ghaith took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and portrayed himself as a mere mouthpiece of the al Qaeda boss who was tapped to 'deliver the message' within hours of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. ... With anonymous jurors listening raptly after the surprise announcement that he would testify, Abu Ghaith recounted how bin Laden recruited him in June 2001 to speak to the men at his training camps.... Three months later, on the night of 9/11, he was summoned to a cave to meet with bin Laden, who asked him: 'Did you learn what happened? We are the ones who did it. ... I want to deliver a message to the world. ... I want you to deliver the message,' bin Laden said, according to Abu Ghaith."

The Harlem Blast: Wall Street Journal: "Federal investigators found a leak in the natural gas main 'adjacent' to one of two East Harlem buildings that collapsed after an explosion last week, killing eight people, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday. Tracer gas was pumped into the main that runs along Park Avenue between East 116th and East 117th streets as part of a pressure test, the NTSB said. The main failed the test at what the agency said was a normal operating pressure. ... The gas main in question is 8 inches in diameter and is composed of 127-year-old cast iron as well as newer plastic. ... But pipeline explosion experts cautioned the recent findings offered no conclusive evidence that an underground gas pipe leak was the explosion's cause. Experts said it remains unclear whether the recently identified underground gas leak preceded the blast or was a result of it and the building collapses."

That's all for today. See you back here on tomorrow. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

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