How to lose an airplane in the age of GPS

Wired's Jordan Golson covers the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, now entering its fourth day. The experienced captain, with 18,000 hours of flight time, gave no warning and issued no mayday. Even with GPS, hardened recorders and pervasive radio, it might be a long time before we know what happened.

Whatever happened, it happened quickly, aviation experts said, and catastrophically. The fact it happened over the ocean–presumably the South China Sea, but possibly the Gulf of Thailand–means it could be months or years before we know exactly what went wrong. The ocean is a very big place, and finding clues will be slow. It took investigators two years to recover the black box data recorder from Air France Flight 447, which went down over the Atlantic on June 1, 2009.

A key data point: "Once a plane is more than 100 or 150 miles from shore, radar no longer works. It simply doesn't have the range."

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