Google Earth Helps Solve A Plane Crash Mystery

Google Earth
Google Earth

The idea behind Google Earth has always been a powerful one: It allows users to explore places that they either can’t or won’t go. But with its vast amount of maps and topographical data, it also is a very powerful tool for combing the Earth — and that can be very useful when you’re searching for something. Which is exactly how it helped a grieving family find a plane that crashed, and took the lives of loved ones, that had been missing for over two years.

Despite countless time spent searching all the areas in Arizona that authorities and the family thought the plane might have gone down, there had been no luck all this time in finding the plane. Then, something rather incredible happened. A person who had also been involved in the attempts to find millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, found a picture of a forest fire that had been taken the same day as the crash and in what was thought to be a similar area. He alerted the family, which had set up a website to aid in the search. Remarkably, they were able to find the exact area in the picture using the different viewing angles and topographical data of Google Earth.

The family and some volunteers then set out to the area they had pinpointed in the program, using its coordinates. Sure enough, they found the wreckage. While it’s not exactly a happy ending for the families of the two people lost in the crash, Marcy Randolph and William Westover, it does provide closure, Randolph’s family says.

And now the family is hoping to help others do similar types of search and rescue using Google Earth. The family has set up a system called MARSI, which stands for Mapped Archive of Rescue & Search Information. On the website they set up for it, they detail exactly how they were able to use Google Earth’s data to find the missing plane. It’s very interesting stuff. And MAST (The Missing Aircraft Search Team), a team which contributed to the Fossett search, apparently wants to use MARSI for future searches, Liz Johannesen, Marcy Randolph’s cousin, tells us.

These types of stories remind us that while projects like Google Earth may not be the most important to a company’s bottom line, they can provide something much more valuable to a lot of people. Last week, we heard about the woman who got her stolen purse back thanks to Google Latitude. And this week we have this much more important story involving Google Earth. It is nice to see that the technology we sometimes take for granted in a quickly evolving space, actually can help people in a meaningful way.

Below, find some images detailing the search area from Google Maps.

by MG Siegler (

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