: Even now, 17 months after Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 vanished from the radar, some quarters are disputing the accuracy of the data from United Kingdom-based global satellite communications firm Inmarsat, from which Malaysia drew the conclusion that the flight had ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
Did Inmarsat get its numbers right?
The answer, according to local satellite communications expert, Zaaim Redha Abdul Rahman, is a resounding "Yes".
He said based on his own study on the analysis of the Inmarsat data, the information which led to the conclusion the flight had ended in the southern Indian Ocean was "correct".
According to him, the Inmarsat data was to a certain extent also consistent with the radar data, which yielded the flight paths, in the first one hour and 41 minutes of the flight.
"When our Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) made the announcement (on March 24, 2014 that flight MH370 had ended in the southern Indian Ocean), a number of people had criticised Inmarsat's analysis and some even thought that the conclusion was deliberately made up to satisfy everyone.
"After the MH370 aircraft vanished from the military radar somewhere above the Andaman Sea, we pretty much had zero information... only Inmarsat data kept giving us clues.
"After the raw data was eventually released to the public, most critics became quiet as the data extracted from the Inmarsat database was not easy to read, let alone analyse. Only those with a background in mobile satellite systems were able to comprehend it," he told Bernama
in an interview here recently. Analysis corroborates Inmarsat's findings
Zaaim Redha explained: "Simply put, the Inmarsat mobile satellite system is a mobile network (such as the GSM network) which has been redesigned to operate in a satellite environment. Your smartphone continuously 'handshakes' with a GSM base station on a rooftop nearby. In the case of Inmarsat, the terminal installed on the MH370 aircraft handshakes with its satellite."
The MH370 Boeing 777-200ER aircraft was logged on to the Inmarsat-3 F1 satellite, which is located at a 64-degree east longitudinal slot somewhere in the middle between the southern tip of India and the northern tip of Madagascar island, and 36,000 kilometres above the equator.
Zaaim Redha said his analysis of the Inmarsat data corroborated the satellite communications provider's findings on the possible flight pattern of MH370 and where it had ended. Inmarsat's findings were based on the calculations made using latency and Doppler information.
Zaaim Redha, who used to be part of the pioneering team at MEASAT which was responsible for developing and launching Malaysia's first satellite, is also very familiar with the Inmarsat-P/ICO mobile satellite system as it was designed and developed by a multinational team which he was part of while he was working for NEC Japan from 1997 to 2002.
An aircraft is able to communicate with ground stations via satellite. If the ground station has not heard from an aircraft for an hour, it will transmit a "log on/log off" message, sometimes referred to as a "ping", using the
aircraft's unique identifier.
When the aircraft receives its unique identifier, it returns a short message indicating that it is still logged on. This process, described as a "handshake", takes place automatically on an hourly basis.
The Inmarsat satellite uses electromagnetic waves, which travel at the speed of light, to send the queries every hour. Handshake
Pointing out that there was a time lapse between sending the query and receiving it, Zaaim Redha explained: "Knowing the speed of light we could calculate the distance between the sub-satellite point and the MH370 aircraft.
"Calculations based on the last 'handshake' at 8.11am (on March 8, 2014) showed that the aircraft was (flying) somewhere on an imaginary circle with a radial distance of 4,819km from the sub-satellite point."
He said based on MH370's available fuel, investigators could calculate the maximum endurance of the aircraft.
"At this point, we could tell for sure the aircraft must have been within the area of a second imaginary circle with a radial distance of 4,000km and centered at the last ATC (Air Traffic Controller) radar contact point.
"After superimposing the above-mentioned imaginary circles and reviewing radar information in Southeast Asia, we could further deduce possible positions of the MH370 aircraft on two arcs, namely the northern and southern arcs.
"Then, Inmarsat engineers brilliantly recognised MH370's Doppler pattern resembling the pattern of all other 777 aircraft moving southward that day. This was how it was concluded that flight MH370 had ended in the southern Indian Ocean."
He said the discovery of an aircraft wing part, called a flaperon, on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion last month – which Malaysia had confirmed was from MH370 – also lent credence to Inmarsat's findings.
"But some people are still skeptical... they want to see hard and tangible evidence such as cushion seats, luggage and so on... which we don't have. What we have is evidence in the form of analysis based on maths and physics.
"I for one accept this evidence... maths and the laws of physics don't lie to us. Nonetheless, I do agree with the contention that we can't use maths and physics to confirm tragedies and death," the expert added. Was there a fire/smoke on board?
Zaaim Redha, meanwhile, also gave his take on the events that could have transpired on board the Beijing-bound MH370 that fateful day it disappeared.
He said there was no human intervention while two call attempts from ground operations to the aircraft at 2:39am and 7:13am on March 8, 2014, as observed in the satellite data, went unanswered.
This, he said, firmly supported the theory that the pilots, crew and passengers on board MH370 were possibly incapacitated by hypoxia or lack of oxygen due to a cabin breach caused by smoke and/or fire that may have broken out earlier.
Zaaim Redha also believed that when the fire first broke out, the pilot may have reprogrammed a new destination into the computer.
"This explains why MH370 flew across the peninsula towards the Penang International Airport," he added.
He said the fire theory appeared to satisfy better chains of logic as it had been backed by eyewitness accounts as well.
A worker on an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam had claimed that at around the same time the MH370 aircraft made a U-turn above the South China Sea, he had seen a sudden glow of fire above the horizon.
A couple of farmers in Kelantan had also claimed sighting an aircraft which, they said, was ablaze as it flew above.
"Being the hot season then, it was typical for Kelantan men to work at night, so they may have seen the plane while working in their farms," said Zaaim Redha, who hails from Tumpat, Kelantan.
He also pooh-poohed the various conspiracy theories, which had linked the plane's disappearance to alien abduction, meteors, terrorism and suicide.
He said some theories that the aircraft had flown to Kazakhstan or Afghanistan, or crashed in the Bay of Bengal or the South China Sea, could all be ruled out, now that Malaysia had confirmed that the flaperon found on Reunion Island did belong to MH370.
The most popular conspiracy theory that made the rounds in this part of the world was of a third party maneuvering the aircraft via remote-control. Zaaim Redha said remote-control via the Inmarsat terminal on MH370 was "simply impossible" as no traffic channel transactions were observed in the satellite data. Twenty former colleagues on Flight 370
When asked on why he had spent so much time analysing the Inmarsat satellite data, Zaaim Redha replied: "Twenty of my ex-colleagues at Motorola (now known as Freescale) were on that flight and a few of them were good friends of mine.
"Just like all the family members, relatives and friends of the passengers and crew, I too want to know what had happened that day.
"It has been 17 months and we need an answer... a definite one," mused Zaaim Redha, who was attached to Motorola Malaysia from 1991 to 1994.