Flight 370 Mystery: How Can a Jetliner Drop Off the Radar?: Page 2

How can a big jet full of people just vanish into thin air in this day and age?

Another vanished jet

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McGuirk likened the disappearance of MH370 to that of Air France Flight 447, which vanished over the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009 after departing Rio de Janeiro en route to Paris.

Flight 447 went down in bad weather, claiming the lives of all 228 people aboard. It took five days to locate the wreckage and nearly two years to locate and recover the Airbus A330's "black boxes" from the ocean floor.

In some ways, however, the loss of MH370 is even more puzzling. Flight 447 was well offshore, beyond the range of radar stations. But the Malaysia Airlines plane was apparently not far from land, McGuirk said, adding that one Malaysian Air Force official made comments to the media suggesting the aircraft was being tracked by radar just before it went missing.

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The comparison to Air France Flight 447 is not encouraging to the friends and families of those aboard MH370, who have already been told by Malaysian officials to expect the worst.

Aviation experts have speculated that the plane's transponder stopped working. This could have happened because the instrument was turned off intentionally or suffered a failure of some sort. Or the jet may have fallen apart, or been blown apart, in the air.

New tracking system coming

While aircraft-tracking systems are constantly being upgraded, a big change is in the offing, say officials with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

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The FAA is working to transition from ground-based radar tracking to a system called NextGen that relies heavily on satellites.

"Satellite navigation will let pilots know the precise locations of other airplanes around them. That allows more planes in the sky while enhancing the safety of travel," officials wrote about NextGen on the FAA website. "Satellite landing procedures will let pilots arrive at airports more predictably and more efficiently. And once on the ground, satellite monitoring of airplanes leads to getting you to the gate faster."

NextGen should also enable savings of hundreds of dollars per flight by 2018, FAA officials added.

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