2.3 million join in search for missing MH370

More than 2.3 million people worldwide are giving up their time to help search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

However, they are not on the 57 ships and 48 aircraft but at home on their computers.

The "volunteers" are part of the crowdsourcing appeal on the Tomnod website – the online search party scanning more than 24,000 square kilometres of satellite imagery in hopes of finding a clue that will lead to the discovery of MH370, reports The Guardian.

Tomnod is run by commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe, which soon after the plane’s disappearance repositioned two of its five satellites over the plane's last known location in the Gulf of Thailand, and have since moved them as the search headed west.

Tomnod users are provided with a randomly chosen map from the search area and are told to drop a pin if they see signs of aeroplane wreckage, life rafts, oil slicks or anything that looks “suspicious”.

An algorithm then finds where there is overlap in tags from people who tagged the same location, and the most notable areas are shared with authorities. A Tomnod spokesperson said that as of Thursday every pixel had been looked at by human eyes at least 30 times, The Guardian report said.

However, the Tomnod hunt has so far proved inconclusive.

Many are also sceptical of crowdsourcing as it was disastrously discredited during the hunt for the Boston bombers and the search for adventurer Steve Fossett’s single-engine plane.

However, for those taking part in the search for MH370, sacrificing their time is worth it if their efforts unearth some clues.

"I guess like everyone else I think the whole thing is a mystery, given that no one seems to have any idea where the plane is or what happened," said Mandy Paine, a tax accountant in Western Australia.

"Like so many people I feel so concerned about what has happened and really wish that even if they cannot immediately figure out what went wrong, at least they can find the plane so the families of those involved can start the healing process.

"I’ve been looking for about four hours today although I had to stop for a while as I ended up with a massive headache. I’ll do a few more hours tonight until the eyes give up.

"I started Wednesday and have probably spent about 16 hours so far. It becomes quite addictive, especially when there are posts showing interesting pictures and when you get a feeling that someone is close to finding it," she told The Guardian.

Paine said she found it difficult, however, to decide when to tag something as suspicious.

"I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for as the plane can be in one piece or thousands of pieces. I think one thing that would make the searching a little bit easier would be examples of what waves look like and wave formations as sometimes these can look like possible debris.

"I’ve found many things: oil rigs, powered boats, fishing trawlers, a couple of helicopters and a whole heap of things that I have tagged but have no idea what they are," she was quoted as saying in The Guardian report.

However, Paine was happy that she got to share some time with her son as they went through the grids together.

She said what kept her going was the thought that something she had tagged might lead investigators to find the plane.

"There’s a lot of camaraderie between users on the MH370 Searching in Tomnod Facebook group; everyone is very supportive of each other, and all, so far, have a common goal with no one person trying to be the one who solves the mystery," she told The Guardian.

"I like the idea of everyone looking and tagging the same maps. None of us are air crash investigators or trained in reading satellite images, so getting a group of people to look for things has a greater chance of finding an answer to the mystery.

"There are many conspiracy theories across the sites but there is also an underlying feeling of hope, or wishful thinking, that the plane will be found intact somewhere and everyone will be safe.

"To be honest I’m very distrustful of the way the official investigation is being handled and all the conflicting information. I have a feeling if the plane is in the ocean there is a good chance it will be found by us."

For Mike Seberger, a project manager in the United States, whose screenshot of a “jet-shaped object” went viral on Tuesday but was later confirmed to be the image of a boat, it is the hope that the families would get some closure soon that keeps him going.

"Initially I felt really excited because my image so closely resembled the scale and shape of a 777-200, and it was in that excited mindset that I wrote the CNN iReport hoping to get someone to examine it.

"I even had people claiming to be aerospace engineers email me overlays supporting the photo being a match for the plane. But after cooling down a bit, and thinking it through more logically, it makes more sense for it to be a boat, unless my satellite image was captured while the plane was floating, which seems unlikely given the time-stamp on my image, or submerged in very shallow water, but that also seems unlikely," he told The Guardian.

He admitted that with each passing day, some margin of hope disappears.

"What seems evident at this point is that the plane and people are gone, though the specific location, cause, and other circumstances are still very mysterious. In that sense, my thoughts and prayers are with the families and I truly hope they get some closure soon, and if I or the Tomnod user community at large can help in that closure, that’s great."

Anja Meilonen, from Belgium, told The Guardian that she had been searching on Tomnod for a couple of years and had helped map Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and searched for a missing plane in Arkansas as well as a lost boat at sea in New Zealand.

"I think it’s great that satellite images are provided for free and I don’t mind not being paid to offer some of my free time for a good cause! I started searching on March 10 and spend at least two to three hours every time I start searching.

"I started looking for the plane as soon as I received Tomnod’s email alert on March 10 and spent quite some hours on it already. I really hope the plane will be found, so relatives of the missing people can get answers. It must be horrible to have someone you love and care for on the plane and not knowing what happened," she said. – March 15, 2014.