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Ocean search has many challenges

By Alexandra Field and Susanna Capelouto, CNN
March 23, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three debris pieces are spotted in an area the size of Belgium
  • Search area in south Indian Ocean is one of the least accessible places on Earth
  • Currents, waves and wind cause debris to drift
  • Ocean floor is deeper than most submarines can go

(CNN) -- Imagine searching the country of Belgium for three pieces of metal, the largest about the size of half a tennis court -- a moving tennis court.

That's the reality for searchers in the south Indian Ocean as they look for two objects, a satellite find that Australian officials call the strongest lead in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 passengers.

A third object was spotted by a Chinese satellite on March 18 and made public Saturday.

The objects are drifting in one of the most inaccessible places on Earth, giving search planes only about two hours before they have to return to Australia. Ships from several countries are assisting in the search, but haven't turned up anything.

And conditions aren't helping. Massive waves, high winds and currents could push the three objects farther east and farther apart, according to a NASA simulation.

Below the water's surface lies an even murkier search climate with the sea floor 9,000 feet down and deeper than most submarines can go.

A mid-ocean ridge in the area has peaks and valleys like the Rocky Mountains. That could meet pinpointing the site of possible wreckage harder still.

The latest questions and answers

Listening for fading pings

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