Skip to main content

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope.
September 8, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
The story began as a puzzling news bulletin. A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet with 239 people on board had vanished from radar screens as it was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1130 GMT (1930 HKT)
The mapping of the main search area for Flight 370 has found parts of the ocean floor that are unusually hard.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0800 GMT (1600 HKT)
Brianna Keilar reports on the new developments that will shape the coming renewed search of MH370.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0529 GMT (1329 HKT)
Flight MH370 may have turned south earlier than originally thought.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
ADVERTISEMENT