Crowd Sourcing: Here is how you can help find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Taf Makura Avatar
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It’s close to a month now since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en-route to Beijing. A US-based satellite company has now come forward with a novel way to crowd source the search of flight MH370. While many theories and outright conspiracy theories have emerged speculating the whereabouts of the 300 million-dollar 300-ton Boeing 777 jumbo jet and the fate of its 239 passengers and crew. The more likely tragedy is that the plane and the remains of all its passengers are somewhere on the ocean floor, most likely the southern Indian Ocean off of the coast of Australia.  So far this scenario is by-far the most likely, the Prime Minister of Malaysia said this in a statement.

Where is the plane?

While the Malaysian prime minister’s statement does bring some closure to the families of the passengers and crew, it also does little to answer the obvious question, where exactly is flight 370? Of all the questions that surround the disappearance of the jet, the question of the plane’s current location is by far the most important and elusive. Finding the plane is instrumental in understanding exactly what happened leading up to the disappearance and eventual crash of flight MH370. Without combing through the wreckage and data from the plane’s ‘black box’, it is impossible to really know what happened on flight 370 before it disappeared from the face of the earth. With the Flight Data Recorder’s battery slowly counting down towards its expiration, the plane must be found and quickly.

How it will be found.

Finding the plane will involve looking. While the search and rescue teams are relying extensively on high-tech gadgetry to help find the wreckage, this technology is of little use until credible wreckage sights are identified.  For the most part, the search will ultimately rely on human eyesight and intuition to identify likely wreckage sights where advanced search technology can then be unleashed. Since the crash, search teams from more than thirteen countries have been sailing and flying across huge swathes of ocean in a bid to spot any suspicious debris.  Of all the tools available, satellites have so far proven to be the most instrumental in helping searchers identify credible leads. Some satellites have now been reassigned to follow the search teams on the ground.

Where you come in.

Colorado-based satellite operator, DigitalGlobe last month commissioned Tomnod a crowd sourced platform that has seen millions of volunteers helping authorities search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Although the servers initially crushed on launch, today more than three million people have already joined the efforts and together, the volunteers have collectively searched through some 24,000 square kilometers of ocean. The crowd-sourcing project is the largest of its kind in such a short period.  More than 257 million map views later, 2.9 million areas had been tagged by volunteers.  To separate credible leads from the torrent of suggestions, Tomnod relies on an algorithm they have called CrowdRank which isolates ‘overlap’ areas that have been tagged the most. When “10 or so” most notable areas are found, the company communicates directly with the US government and other “authorities”

Amongst the volunteers are students from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC). It’s interesting to see if any of our own local institutions and government departments will capitalize on the platform to give students and officials practical real world experience in disaster situations of this nature. While we wait for action, or lack thereof, from our governments and universities, you can be part of the process yourself. It’s simple.

How to Participate

Step 1:  Visit

Step 2: Start uncovering and investigating one map block at a time for any clues.

Step 3: If you find anything suspicious, tag it.

And that’s it. While expects have stated that it is very unlikely for the wreckage to be found through Tomnod. It is believed that feedback from the platform will help professional image analysts quickly identify and eliminate areas that are of no interest. While this maybe the case, Tomnod has already provided possible leads in the search for flight 370 at least once before. Good luck and happy hunting.



  1. MI5

    Plane landed at United States Military Airbase Diego Garcia in the Maldives

  2. Peter Raeth

    This is a very good start, having a large number of people put manual eyeballs on a lot of pictures. A next step would be to provide an interface to the entire collection that would allow for automated image analysis. An external process would connect to the “database”, retrieve images, analyze them, and provide tags that are (yes) manually confirmed by the analysis-software POC.

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