Ocean search has many challenges

Challenge of searching the Indian Ocean
Challenge of searching the Indian Ocean

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Challenge of searching the Indian Ocean 02:03

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

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

      Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

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      An empty space on earth

      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.
    • 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.

      Is this the sound of the crash?

      Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
    •  A crew member of a Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion aircraft helps to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in flight over the Indian Ocean on April 13, 2014 off the coast of Perth, Australia. S

      Search back to square one

      What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
    • Caption:A Chinese relative of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 uses a lighter as she prays at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. The hunt for physical evidence that the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago has turned up nothing, despite a massive operation involving seven countries and repeated sightings of suspected debris. AFP PHOTO/WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

      Bring in the lawyers

      Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
    • The painstaking search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 got a vote of confidence Friday that the effort is headed in the right direction, but officials noted that much work remains.
Credit: 	CNN

      Pings likely not from Flight 370

      Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
    • INDIAN OCEAN (April 14, 2014) -- Operators aboard ADF Ocean Shield move U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 into position for deployment, April 14. Using side scan sonar, the Bluefin will descend to a depth of between 4,000 and 4,500 meters, approximately 35 meters above the ocean floor. It will spend up to 16 hours at this depth collecting data, before potentially moving to other likely search areas. Joint Task Force 658 is currently supporting Operation Southern Indian Ocean, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/RELEASED)

      Underwater search on hold

      The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
    • Movie-makers say they have recruited leading Hollywood technicians to bring their experience to mid-air flight sequences.

      An MH370 movie already?

      Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
    • The story of the search

      The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.