Two-thirds of the planet is covered with water, which makes finding something lost at sea an imposing task. Wired tells us more.
Four days after Malayasia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared enroute to Bejing, search and rescue vessels scouring the region have found no trace of the airliner or the 239 people aboard. Although authorities have yet to speculate on what happened aboard the Boeing 777-200, what ever it was that brought down the plane is widely believed to have occurred quickly, catastrophically and at high altitude. That would scatter debris over a huge area.
You’d think that would make finding debris easy, but that has not been the case. Malaysia Airlines says nine aircraft and 24 ships are searching for Flight 370; the flotilla includes the USS Kidd and USS Pinckney, two destroyers that were conducting exercises in the area. The U.S. Navy also deployed a Lockheed P-3C Orion, a maritime surveillance plane originally developed for anti-submarine work. This search force, drawn from nine countries, has expanded its focus to a vast swath of the South China and Andaman seas, the Straits of Malacca and the Gulf of Thailand–an area larger than Texas and California combined.
Despite the size of the search operation and the technology at its disposal, the task of searching for an aircraft in the water still comes down to sailors and airmen looking at the sea, for hours at a time.
Large-scale pelagic search-and-rescue operations are managed from what’s called a Rescue Coordination Center. Officials there coordinate the efforts of the various nations and agencies involved, ensuring efforts are not duplicated and the area in question is thoroughly and efficiently searched. Because Flight 370 was from a Malaysian carrier, departed from Malaysia, and presumably went down relatively close to home, that country’s Department of Civil Aviation is running the show. Malaysian authorities have considerable experience with search and rescue operations, and the country’s expertise is well regarded by others in the field.
The biggest challenge, aside from the size of the search area, is not knowing where Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shaw and First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid ran into trouble, where the plane went down, or why. Knowing where to begin the search is, of course, a key data point, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Katelyn Shearer of the United States Coast Guard. Although she would not speak specifically about the search for Flight 370, she outlined what typically happens in such a search and rescue operation.