Search for plane taken to internet

Last updated 12:09 12/03/2014

NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK: Military personnel look out of a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C130 transport plane as they search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

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As dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 nations scour the seas for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, a US-based satellite imaging company has launched its own search effort with a crowdsourcing campaign to locate the Boeing 777.

DigitalGlobe, which operates commercial imaging satellites, has made available high-resolution images from the weekend of the area where evidence suggests plane with 239 people on board may have crashed into the water.

It is asking volunteers to log onto its Tomnod website and comb through images in the hope of locating something of interest.

So far, 3200 square kilometres of imagery has been made available for volunteers to search online. More images will be released over the next 24 hours.

The company said about 600,000 people had scanned its satellite images for clues so far.

Shay Har-Noy, DigitalGlobe's senior director for geospatial big data, said the photos had 10 million page views by Tuesday afternoon.

Har-Noy called  the response overwhelming and said the company's servers were having trouble keeping up with the demand.

He said US government agencies had access to its images as well.

"For people who aren't able to drive a boat through the Pacific Ocean to get to the Malaysian peninsula, or who can't fly aeroplanes to look there, this is a way that they can contribute and try to help out," DigitalGlobe's Luke Barrington told US news network ABC News.

Users can zoom in on each satellite image and drop a pin if they see anything that they believe could be wreckage. An algorithm will find where there is overlap in the tags - spots where multiple people have found something of note.

Expert analysts will then examine the tags to identify the top 10 or so most notable areas and share the information with authorities.

"We'll say 'here are our top 10 suspicious or interesting locations'," Barrington said. "Is it really an aircraft wing that's been chopped in half or is this some other debris floating on the ocean? We may not be 100 per cent sure, but if this is where I had to go pick a location to go looking for needles in this big haystack, this is where I'd start."

The images currently available to search are of the area where the Gulf of Thailand meets the South China Sea. They were taken on Sunday by two satellites.

As the official search area is increased or changed, more satellite images will be made available. Already, an area further north in the Gulf of Thailand will be uploaded to Tomnod in the next 24 hours.

This is not the first time the Tomnod website has been used to crowdsource a search.

More than 6000 people logged on to the Tomnod site to search an area just south of Norfolk Island for a vintage yacht, The Nina, which vanished with its seven crew on board while sailing from New Zealand's Bay of Islands to Newcastle in NSW last June.

It was also used to map the devastation after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last November, with thousands helping identify more than 60,000 objects of interest of regions and landmarks that could have been affected within the first 24 hours.

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- Sydney Morning Herald, AP

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