By Keith Coffman
DENVER, March 11 A Colorado-based company has
put "crowdsourcing" to work in the search for a missing Malaysia
Airlines jet, enlisting Internet users to comb through satellite
images of more than 1,200 square miles (3,200 square km) of open
seas for any signs of wreckage, the company said on Tuesday.
At least 600,000 volunteers have logged onto a website run
by DigitalGlobe Inc to scan images the company uploaded
from two of its five satellites covering an area between the
Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea where the jetliner was
first believed to have vanished on Saturday.
The Boeing 777-200ER, with 227 passengers and 12 crew
members on board, had taken off from Malaysia's capital, Kuala
Lumpur, on a flight bound for Beijing when it lost contact with
civilian air traffic controllers.
The Malaysia Airlines aircraft was initially
thought to be roughly midway between Kota Bharu, a town on West
Malaysia's eastern coast, and the southern tip of Vietnam,
flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,670 meters), when it
The country consists of West Malaysia, a peninsula south of
Thailand, and East Malaysia in northern Borneo.
Navy ships, military aircraft, helicopters, coast guard and
civilian vessels from 10 countries have crisscrossed both coasts
of West Malaysia in an effort to find the plane, deepening one
of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation history.
DigitalGlobe, based in Longmont, Colorado, began placing
satellite images on its crowdsourcing website, Tomnod, on Monday
and invited the public to join in the search by closely
examining the pictures for any sign of the plane.
"We have hundreds of thousands of users combing pixel by
pixel through our imagery. Even if we don't find something,
that's an indication there might not be anything there," said
Shay Har-Noy, the founder and director of research and
development at DigitalGlobe.
He compared the search to trying to find a needle in a
"If you can rule out portions of that haystack as not having
that needle, then that's a value as well," he said.
Volunteers and company analysts have spotted what appeared
to be some patterns of unrecognizable objects in the sea that
they could not explain but which might warrant closer scrutiny,
"We've found a bunch of clues, no smoking gun yet," he said.
Questions about the plane's flight path have complicated the
search. The crowdsourcing effort was launched just before
Malaysia's military indicated the flight might have strayed far
off course, which would have placed its last known location
hundreds of miles from where DigitalGlobe was collecting
A Malaysian military officer told Reuters the flight appears
to have turned around and made it to the Straits of Malacca, to
the west of peninsular Malaysia, instead of to the northeast of
the country where initial search efforts were conducted.
The flood of volunteers also caused some technical glitches
for the project, Har-Noy said.
Examination of the satellite imagery by more than 600,000
visitors to the site generated 6.5 million map views and slowed
the Tomnod platform, leading to complaints from some would-be
participants who were thwarted from joining the search.
"It's been the most overwhelming response, considerably
higher than any response we had in the past," Har-Noy said.
"It's honestly slammed our servers."
DigitalGlobe's satellites will be in position to capture
more imagery on Wednesday morning and may turn its focus to the
Straits of Malacca, Har-Noy said. But he added the firm may look
elsewhere, including over land masses, depending on the latest
information from media reports and other sources.
DigitalGlobe, plans to at least double the amount of search
imagery it uploads to Tomnod on Tuesday, Har-Noy said.
DigitalGlobe in 1993 became the first private company
allowed by the U.S. government to create a satellite system for
gathering high-resolution images for commercial sale. Besides
the federal government, its customers include corporations and