Historic Virtual Search for Malaysian Flight 370 Includes Millions of Volunteers

Rather than speculating on the ridiculously large number of unknowns in the sudden and utter disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, I am finding some comfort in the “one-world” community of volunteers who have come together to painstakenly sift through millions of satellite images to search for evidence of the missing Boeing 777 carrying 239 souls.  American company Digital Globe has provided a platform (website) they call Tomnod (which means “big eye” in Malaysian) where they have uploaded millions of images from their 5 mapping satellites, all of which they have aimed in the general area where the plane is believed to have gone down in the Gulf of Thailand.

They tutor you on what to look for (what does plane wreckage look like from the sky? a life raft? (see below), an oil slick? And then they turn you loose on literally millions of slides, very high resolution images of the sea, to search and “tag” anything suspicious.  And you see water and small waves, and water and small waves and well, you get the picture. I looked at about 40 slides before giving up. But there are over 2,000,000 who are diligent about the search and are looking right now. So many, in fact, that they crashed the site yesterday but today it’s back up and searching again.


Raft Actual Size
How awesome is that? Can you believe that from all over the world, millions of people are logging onto their computers and searching for those poor souls? People in America in their pjs, people in Africa at work, people in China sitting in a cafe, it just blows my mind.  This isn’t the first time Digital Globe has helped in a crisis.  They are currently searching for a sailboat called the Nina that disappeared with a family onboard.  They helped after Typhoon Haiyan by searching and “tagging” damaged houses, places where people appeared to be gathering, places that seemed to need help but there was no visible response.
Will this be the future of all searches? If a child wanders off, or an Alzheimer’s patient, will we be able to call the virtual search party in on that type of local search?  That might be a good funding of our tax dollars, put a few satellites up there to do that and let us help our neighbors.  It’s great that Digital Globe is donating their mapping satellites for this search, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have dedicated ones for search and rescue on the smallest scale?
It also reminds me that we are generally good to each other if given the chance. The many Chinese families and families of 12 other nationals including American are not hurting alone. We globally feel for them. We may not understand the man screaming in chinese for answers from the authorities, but our hearts contract in pain for him because we fully understand his anguish and we want to help him. Love is universal.
I, like everyone else, remain mesmerized by the fact that a plane can simply disappear for almost a week with no clue, no wreckage, no warning, no communication. But I think I’ll find my reading glasses and get back onto Tomnod and look at some more slides. Because, if that were me or my loved one on that plane, I’d want you and everyone else to take a few minutes and try to find us.
Sometimes, in certain circumstances, we are a beautiful bunch of creatures due to our simple need to help if we can and, for that reason I find this whole global virtual search party to be armchair heroes.