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Crowdsourcing search for Malaysian plane goes viral, but no luck so far

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Online volunteers are viewing 2 million pages of satellite photos every 10 minutes
  • The crashed website is back running -- for now
  • Crowdsourcing search for Malaysian Airlines plane gets 100 million page views in 34 hours
  • "There hasn't been the smoking gun ... that leads to the location" of plane, exec says

(CNN) -- More than 115,000 volunteers have joined the crowdsourcing search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane by going to their computers and reviewing satellite photos of the open ocean to find signs of the aircraft, a sponsor said Wednesday.

In all, these humanitarian-minded volunteers have posted 100 million page views in the first 34 hours since the crowdsourcing campaign began this week. The public was viewing 2 million pages of satellite imagery every 10 minutes on Wednesday, said a senior director of a Longmont, Colorado, the firm that is leading the Internet effort.

The volunteers are assisting the experts now in Malaysia and its surrounding ocean by looking for any sign of the commercial airliner.

But as of Wednesday, the amateurs online hadn't had any luck.

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"Up until now, there hasn't been the smoking gun, the final clue, that leads to the location of the wreckage of the missing aircraft," said Shay Har-Noy, founder of DigitalGlobe's tomnod.com, where the online searches are being conducted. It wasn't immediately clear whether authorities in Malaysia were aware of the crowdsourcing effort or chasing any leads identified by volunteers.

However, search experts were examining Wednesday the findings of a Chinese satellite that "observed a suspected crash area at sea," a Chinese government agency said.

The Chinese imagery marked a potential big break in the frustrating search for the Boeing 777.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has become such an international mystery that Internet do-gooders have mobilized a "crowdsourcing campaign" poring over DigitalGlobe's satellite photos -- all in the effort to find any trace of a plane floating in the Gulf of Thailand.

The task, however, is like the cliched search for a needle in a haystack.

"We have found a lot of really interesting pieces of debris, lots of ships," which are involved in the search, Har-Noy told CNN on Wednesday.

"We can see from space all the boats and the infrastructure that's in place" for the open sea hunt, said Har-Noy, also a senior director for geospatial big data for DigitalGlobe, which acquired tomnod.com last year.

So many people are tantalized by the mystery and want to help in the search -- online, at least -- that they have crashed the website several times in the past couple of days.

"Yes, yesterday we had a quite a bit of trouble keeping up with the volume," Har-Noy said. "The response has been extraordinary."

In fact, scores of volunteers have posted their findings from tomnod.com on their CNN iReport pages, which is CNN's own version of crowdsourcing, sometimes used in the news outlet's coverage of world events.

One CNN iReporter, Mike Seberger, early in the crowdsourcing campaign spotted an image in one satellite photograph that appears to be a commercial airliner floating in the ocean -- though Seberger concedes the silhouette also resembles a boat.

His discovery, however, has apparently turned out to be a false alarm -- especially in the wake of Har-Noy's declaration Wednesday that none of the online tips has yet yielded a major clue.

Seberger's flagging of the interesting image, however, went viral, and in the span of a couple of days, his iReport page is now ranked the eighth most popular of all-time, between a Hurricane Sandy posting and a Super Typhoon Haiyan photo.

READ: Officials dispute report that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 kept flying for hours

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