The plane last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, Mr Yahya said in a statement.

Which of followings are consistent in meaning: 1. The plane for the last time made a call with air traffic controllers ..... 2. The plane last time had contacted with .....

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    This contact is a noun. To use contact as a verb, you can rephrase it to, The last time the plane contacted air traffic controllers, it was 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu. – Damkerng T. Mar 8 '14 at 17:31
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    Read it as: "The last time there was contact between the plane and ATC was when the plane was 120nm off the coast." This contact could have been in the form of voice communications but was more likely in the form of transponder and/or radar data. – Jim Mar 8 '14 at 18:05

Of the options you offer, neither is ideal. Option number 1 has a strange order of words that could almost be mistaken for annoyance on the part of the author about being asked to repeat himself. The plane, FOR THE LAST TIME, made a call with air traffic controllers... I know it seems a stretch that it could be read that way, but the order of the words is odd enough that a reader used to reading English could really be confused about what it is exactly that you're trying to say. Option number 2 is oddly phrased and grammatically incorrect. The phrasing Damkerng T. used in his comment (as I was writing this) is clear and correct.

EDIT: Although, FumbleFingers makes a good point too. To say that contact was made doesn't say who initiated the contact (who made the call).

"Had" is just the past tense of "have" (and past participle, but that's a more subtle concept).

  • I don't think OP is asking whether his suggested "rephrasings" are grammatical. The original citation is perfectly normal - OP just wants to know what it means (I assume in OP's alternative #2 last time had contacted with is mangled phrasing for was last contacted by). – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '14 at 18:13

I don't know much about air traffic control, but I assume it's just as possible for ATC to initiate "contact" as for the plane to do so. Note the difference between...

1: "I last contacted them back in 2004"
2: "I last made contact with them back in 2004"
3: "I last had contact with them back in 2004"
4: "We were last in contact back in 2004"

...where #1 explicitly indicates I initiated the contact, and #2 strongly implies this, whereas #3 and #4 imply nothing at all about whether I contacted them, or they contacted me.

So in OP's case all we know is the last time there was any communication between ATC and the plane was at the specified location. I assume planes have automatic transmitting equipment, so we can't even be sure the flight crew were involved in (or even aware of) that "contact". It might just have been an automatic signal from the plane picked up by ATC.

TL;DR: If A and B had contact, communication (in either or both directions) occured. If A made contact with B, communication in both directions probably occurred, but we also know for sure that A initiated it.

  • Good point - who initiated the contact? – Jolenealaska Mar 8 '14 at 18:06
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    Most likely this contact was electronic transponder/radar data. All aircraft equipped to fly in controlled airspace and certainly all commercial aircraft are equipped with a special radio transmitter that continuously transmits a special code allowing ATC to identify the radar "blip" they see on their screens. The plane is said to be in radar contact when a ATC controller sees the blip and can associate that blip with an aircraft Identification. Usually when ATC loses contact with a plane it is when the "blip" disappears from their screen. – Jim Mar 8 '14 at 18:20
  • @Jim: I figured there would be "contextual" factors like that involved. That's why I switched my example to me and them - I assume we're supposed to be discussing the general use of English here, not the specifics of plane/ATC communications – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '14 at 18:32

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