Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Internet sleuths seek clues in ongoing mystery, share information through Facebook

By Pat Caldwell


Sharon Cantrell thinks she knows where the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is.

And it isn't off the coast of Australia.

Instead, the La Grande woman said she believes the missing Boeing 777-200 crashed into the Andaman Sea off the northern coast of Sumatra. She said she reached her conclusion after spending days poring over satellite imagery on the NASA web site and while working with an online group of amateur sleuths via Facebook.

Cantrell said her tale began when a friend on Facebook received an email alert from TomNod.com, an Internet-based search site that uses crowdsourcing - and satellite imagery - to find missing objects across the globe.

"It was a thing put out by the TomNod group. It was interesting to me that they had images that you could view," Cantrell said.

From there, Cantrell said she linked up with four other women - in different parts of the U.S. and Australia - on the Facebook group to search for the missing airliner. The group utilized all the information available from news reports and from online sources and began to methodically search. Cantrell said before long she was communicating with another member of her Facebook search group.

"We started discussing our theories and they lined up together," she said.

Cantrell said she spent hours scanning satellite photos of probable flight paths of the jetliner. Media reports - including a March 12 story from United Press International about an eyewitness account from an oil derrick worker in the area - helped her narrow down the search parameters. She said she and her Facebook comrade began to concentrate on satellite imagery from the northern coast of Sumatra and the Andaman Sea. Slowly, she said, she began to detect what she believed to be signs of a plane crash in the sea.

"I didn't find any images with the plane on it. I noticed differences in the bottom of the ocean, the shape," she said.

She began to compare day to day satellite photos - March 8, March 9, etc., - of the area north of Sumatra and noticed some anomalies.

"I remembered that it (the area) didn't look like that when I looked before," she said. "Well, when I zoomed in, because of the way it was distorted, it took me a pretty good time to figure out what it was."

Cantrell conceded she had her own doubts. At first.

"The first reports was they searched the area, the Andaman Sea, the whole Strait of Mecca. If they had just went a little further east they would have been able to find it," she said.

Cantrell said what she eventually decided she was looking at was a crater on the shallow sea floor. She reached her conclusion by comparing satellite imagery over succeeding days.

"I noticed a circular shape. I started to zoom into the white area. That's when I was looking through the top edge and it hit me what it was," she said.

Cantrell said she then pulled up satellite photos from March 9 - the day after the jet disappeared.

"That was the day I could clearly see the area. The crater is elongated," she said.

The area, she said, is north of the Sumatra city of Banda Aceh and west of the Smith and Nicobar Islands in the Andaman Sea.

"I mostly was using TomNod (maps) and going back over to the NASA site to look at cloud structure. What we were doing was going back and forth between the two (satellite) maps to look at the cloud structure and what direction the sun was," she said.

Once she concluded she had, indeed, found something that looked like pieces of the downed airliner, she said she began to make phone calls.

"I've reported by findings to the FBI. I've reported it to the U.S. Coast Guard. I then called Boeing. I've never heard anything back," she said.

She also said she contacted Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden's office, a newspaper in Malaysia and CNN.

According to a March article on the United Kingdom's The Guardian website, more than 2 million people were actively looking for the missing aircraft as part of a Tomnod crowdsourcing effort.

Although the official search for the plane is centered off the Australian coast, Cantrell said she believes in her research. She is confident, she said, about her conclusions.

Officials: Mystery of missing jet might go unsolved

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - A police investigation may never determine the reason why the Malaysia Airlines jetliner disappeared, and search planes scouring the Indian Ocean for any sign of its wreckage aren't certain to find anything either, officials said Wednesday.