NPR Story
12:56 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

How To Coordinate An International Search

Nine countries are involved in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, with dozens of planes and ships scanning the area where the flight may have gone down.

There is no designated leader in the search. Aviation officials say that the official investigation can not begin until the aircraft is located. It’s expected to be found in either Malaysian or Vietnamese waters.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Bellini joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss how to coordinate such a massive international search.


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This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

And as the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 continues, there are reportedly nine different countries involved, including the U.S. and Thailand. So how do you coordinate such a large international search effort? For more on that part of the story, we're joined by Jason Bellini of The Wall Street Journal. He's with us from New York. Hi, Jason.


HOBSON: Well, who is heading up the search effort at this point?

BELLINI: Malaysia has been heading up the search effort, and they've been directing the contributions from a number of different countries that you mentioned - U.S., Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Indonesia, China. But really, the most significant players after conversations that I've had with U.S. Navy officials really comes from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand because they really bring equipment in the form of air assets and radar that other countries don't have that can really cover large amounts of area - large areas right now.

And also, we should note there's, you know, breaking news in this right now, and that CNN's reporting that a Malaysian official is saying that flight 370 was last detected flying over a small island hundreds of miles from the flight's route to the west. And one thing I can also tell you is that in terms of U.S. assets to the west of where they've been searching, USS Kidd has been - just joined the effort there yesterday and has helicopters searches that have been going on all through the day yesterday. Now, it's nighttime over there.

HOBSON: Well, how is this all coordinated? Because I imagine it's all done on basically a voluntary basis. These countries say we can bring this to the table and help you search.

BELLINI: That's exactly right. Voluntary basis - and the commander that I spoke with who's the commander of our Navy in this region who's directing these efforts says they usually get a grid and said, this is your area today, and it's changing every day as new information comes along. And he got into the methods that they use with the planes, the P-3s that they're flying over the surface using surface search radar called APS radar. The P-3s actually able to cover, in a single hour, 1,500 square miles, so a real large distance with these planes. And they've also got helicopter assets. Several helicopters that can go out for about four hours stretches each, and then they have to go back to refuel. Those two can cover, in about a three and a half hour time, about 440 square nautical miles. Really significant areas that they're able to cover using these assets. And, again, Australia and New Zealand also has some of these same assets.

HOBSON: And in addition to what all of these governments are able to do to search, there is also the opportunity for the public to get involved by monitoring satellite images. Is that right?

BELLINI: That's right. DigitalGlobe - they've trained their cameras from - they've got five orbiting satellites. And so they've trained it on the Gulf of Thailand region, and they're asking people to go to their website and tagging areas. You know, you can start looking on, you know, very precise areas, tagging things that look suspicious to you, and they're using algorithms to then find where people have tagged, and where there's a cluster of tags, and then their experts can look more closely to see what's going on there.

HOBSON: Jason, the officials that spoke with, did they give you any sense of how long they expected to take to find this plane or any sign of it?

BELLINI: You know, it's interesting. The most significant thing that I took away from it was this commander saying, you know, we've reached the point of saturation in terms of air assets. They've got what they need to find it, and they're quite shocked that they haven't because these radar is so sophisticated that if there was something on the surface, it will detect it.

So - but then the Malaysian officials say that this really is, you know, still a needle in a haystack, saying that it was sobering for him, the Malaysian commander, that this is such a large and massive area we need to cover. Although, like I said, this - we may be honing in on this new area that the plane apparently, or reportedly, may have veered into for reasons we do not know.

HOBSON: The Wall Street Journal's Jason Bellini. Jason, thanks so much.

BELLINI: Thank you.

HOBSON: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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