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Why Didn’t Fliers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Call or Text?

There has been quite a bit of media speculation on the loss of Malaysia Flight 370. However, many important questions simply are not being answered yet. One that many people are wondering about is this: Why didn’t anyone on board that plane call or text message anyone?

During the last week I have appeared on many news shows — NBC, CNN with Wolf Blitzer, FOX News with Megyn Kelly, and an assortment of other shows on national networks. The same questions repeatedly come up, but there are no answers.

One I’ve been pondering is this: Why didn’t the passengers on Malaysia Flight 370 call, email or text any messages?

Deceptive Ringing

Some family members have been upset because when they called the cellphones of their loved ones on the flight they would hear several rings before the call attempt would fail. Unfortunately, that means nothing. If you’re calling a landline, when you hear it ring, it is ringing.

However, cellular calls don’t work that way. When you dial and press send, you start to hear ringing — but that does not mean it’s ringing on the other end. It simply signifies the network is searching for the phone you are dialing.

If both phones are on the same network in the same country, the connection can be made on the first ring. If there are two different networks involved, it can take another ring or two. If the two networks are from different countries, the number of rings can stretch out longer.

To give you an example, my wife and I use two different wireless networks. When she calls my wireless phone from her wireless phone, she often hears several rings before I hear it ring once. Hearing the sound of a phone ringing on the other end means nothing, unfortunately.

If a plane is flying high, or over the ocean or a non-populated area, there are likely no cell towers to log onto. If a wireless phone is not logged on to a cell tower, it’s not connected. If it’s not connected, then it’s no better than a paperweight. It simply won’t work.

There are other ways to message, however.

Sat Phones and WiFi

There are phones in many planes today. These are not traditional cellphones. Instead, they connect to the airplane, then to a satellite, and then to the ground. These are expensive, but a great way to call from the air.

Were phones like these on the Malaysia Airlines plane? If so, were they used? Why has there been no answer to this question as yet?

What about WiFi? Many U.S. domestic flights offer Internet access through Gogo In-flight and other services, allowing users to send email and chat messages.

Was WiFi available on Flight 370? Were any messages received? Why no answer to this question yet?

If there were no messages received, does it mean the plane experienced a sudden catastrophe? If you believe the latest news accounts, the answer seems to be no. The plane flew off course several hours. So why were the passengers not sending messages? Were they unable to? Were they unconscious?

There’s speculation that a sudden elevation change could have knocked everyone out quickly. Is that what happened?

Then there is cellphone jamming technology. Sure, it’s illegal, but so is hijacking a plane. It could have rendered every phone and computer on the plane unable to communicate.

I’m raising questions, not suggesting answers. I have no answers. I am not an aviation expert, but I have been following wireless technology for decades. Someone must have at least some of these answers, right?

Malaysia Airlines should answer these questions. Did this plane have wireless phones or WiFi for fliers to use? Families and international searchers need answers.

Sat Tracking Overdue

For the future, we can learn many lessons. One thing we must do going forward is make sure every plane that flies has every bit of technology help available.

For one thing, it should not be possible for pilots or anyone on a plane to turn off its tracking technology.

Every plane should be equipped with satellite tracking technology. U.S. planes will have it — but possibly not until as late as 2020. The timetables for other countries to adopt this tech is unknown.

We need Malaysia to be more open with the world so we can fill in the blanks. Let’s start with whether this flight was equipped with satellite phones or WiFi service.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

1 Comment

  • To this day, I don’t believe I’ve heard any one involved in the investigation give an explanation for why no calls or texts were sent during this flight. It makes you wonder if there was a fast decompression event that rendered everyone on board unconscious and unable to use their phones. It’s a crazy mystery that’s for sure.

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