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Real-time flight trackers seek missing Malaysian Air flight 370, find only holes

Flightradar24 tracks Malaysia Air flight 370

March 8, 2014: Real-time flight tracker flightradar24 offers some information on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 -- but not enough to help guide rescue workers. (flightradar24)

Several online flight-tracking services can locate airplanes in real-time, using GPS navigation data transmitted from the aircraft themselves. But in the case of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which disappeared from radar screens more than 48 hours ago, a hole in coverage maps means even these sites lack answers.

“We lost tracking for it pretty early on,” a spokesman for FlightAware told FoxNews.com.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, departed Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia on March 8 at 12:43 a.m. local time en route to Beijing, China, according to FlightAware, which published a minute-by-minute tracking log of the flight. The plane was at 35,000 feet at 1:01 a.m. Saturday morning.

One minute later, the site’s data ends.

“Government regulations prohibit live flight-tracking in the area,” the company explained. “Quickly after take-off, it was outside our coverage range and we had no live position.”

FlightRadar24, another real-time flight tracking app, immediately sought to analyze its data following the plane’s disappearance. The site appears to have slightly more data, tracking flight 370 for another 15 or so minutes. Yet it, too, could not track the plane completely.

“Between [1:19 a.m. and 1:20 a.m. Malaysian time] the aircraft was changing heading from 25 to 40 degrees, which is probably completely according to flight plan as MH370 on both 4 March and 8 March did the same at the same position,” explains a post on the company’s Facebook page. “Last two signals are both showing that the aircraft is heading in direction 40 degrees.”

Then the company lost track of the plane. It did not receive any emergency “squawk” alerts.

That data comes from the ADS-B transponder on the plane -- the so called black box -- which transmits a plane’s location twice per second. Roughly 60 percent of all passenger aircraft are equipped with transponders that beam out such data, the company said.

Flightradar 24 claims to have a network of more than 3,000 ADS-B receivers around the world that receive pings from planes. But even so, locating aircraft can be a challenge.

“Due to the high frequency used (1090-MHz) the coverage from each receiver is limited to about 150-250 miles in all directions depending on location,” the company explains. “The farther away from the receiver an aircraft is flying, the higher it must fly to be covered by the receiver. The distance limit makes it very hard to get ADS-B coverage over oceans.”

Officials investigating the disappearance of the flight have been targeting the South China Sea, where oil slicks were spotted by rescue crews but ultimately determined not to belong to the aircraft.

More than 48 hours after the plane disappeared from radar screens, a multinational search team  of dozens of ships and aircraft had failed to find any sign of the plane.

“The amount of water – the distance between Vietnam and Malaysia is probably the size of the state of Pennsylvania, so there really is quite a bit of water that needs to be investigated,” Robert Mark, a commercial pilot and former air traffic controller, said Monday on “Fox & Friends.”