The change in the search target zone for Flight MH370 seems to reveal how much can be calculated about the Boeing 777’s last hours in the air with very little information.

In order to fix the airplane’s position three things are essential: its direction, height and speed.

The first information acted upon in directing the search was the most crucial: direction. This came from pings received by the London-based Inmarsat satellite operator. It was the thinnest of clues, based on hourly signals showing that the 777 was still “alive.”

Using previously untried technology, the experts looking at the Inmarsat data were able slowly to refine the airplane’s course, beginning with a huge arc extending north of the Himalayas into Asia down to the remote southern Indian Ocean, and then settling on a smaller area, about the size of Alaska, to the southwest of Australia.

But the Inmarsat information was unable to indicate either the altitude or the speed of the airplane.

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