Mobile Silence on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Just One More Mystery

by Jeff Wiener on March 25, 2014

As I’m writing this the news has just come across my desk that Malaysian officials have gone on record stating the final resting place of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is likely somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, far off the west coast of Australia. By the time this post gets published we may well have had this report confirmed, but if so, that will only answer one of the enduring questions about what is shaping up to be one of the greatest airline mysteries of all time.

While we try to get answers to the myriad of questions surrounding what I think we can now say is a tragic, albeit confusing, airline disaster, the question that has plagued me while I have sat (much like you no doubt) with bated breath for any news has been, why didn’t the passengers attempt to communicate during what now seems to have been a prolonged crisis?

This nagging thought emerged almost two weeks ago when a report surfaced that cellphones from passengers were still ringing, offering hope to families, friends, and the world that perhaps there was still hope. But while such hope was sadly misplaced I have to echo the question posed by E-Commerce Times writer Jeff Kagan, “Why didn’t the passengers on Malaysia Flight 370 call, email or text any messages?”

If you hadn’t read the theory or response to the phantom rings family and friends of Flight 370 passengers received in the days following the crash, it was essentially the story that upon phoning those cell phones people were able to hear four or five rings before the call ended, offering hope that the phones were still with the passengers, and that perhaps the passengers were still okay.

Sadly the hope offered by such phantom rings was false, as the reality of mobile communication is that rings heard by the person placing the call don’t equate to the call being connected, as unlike landline service, calls in the mobile world are not immediate and rings on the senders end are simply evidence of the network searching for the proper recipient.

But that said, it does raise questions regarding communication attempts by passengers using those same mobile devices before the last satellite communication with the flight ended some seven hours after it disappeared from radar.

While I have no answers and can merely speculate, if we accept the fact that a catastrophic event didn’t cause this tragedy, several options remain that might explain the silence. First, and this came to me early on, is that perhaps passengers were unaware anything was wrong. Mysterious turns, new flight paths, and disappearing from radar are all known to us now, but passengers may not have been aware of anything.

Second, passengers may not have had network access. If the plane was flying over network dead spots or out in remote areas, mobile communication would have been impossible, as phones would be no better than expensive paper weights during those times. But with advances in onboard communication, particularly air phones, there certainly are other ways to get in touch with the outside world, so why no calls?

In response to that there are theories that rapid elevation changes, perhaps depressurization, or, following the hijacking theory, perhaps even mobile jamming were critical factors, rendering communication impossible.

Mind you, none of these are answers to the questions that continue to surround this tragic mystery, simply theories that run incessantly through my mind as I struggle along with the entire world to comprehend this catastrophe.

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