Google Earth helps find missing plane

For every terrorist who uses Google Earth for evil, there seem to be many more people who leverage the mapping tool for good instead. Case in point: The Washington Post reports that Google Earth was used to help a grieving family find a plane that had been missing for more than two years.

Despite the best efforts of local authorities and volunteer search teams, the plane carrying pilot William Westover and his passenger Marcy Randolph had been missing since September 2006, when it disappeared from radar during a sightseeing trip. While most everyone involved assumed the plane had gone down, several searches of the likely crash area had come up empty.

That is, until a searcher involved in the hunt for famous millionaire Steve Fossett's downed plane (found last fall) ran across a hiker report--and a photo--of a forest fire in the same area on the same day Westover's plane went missing. Using the different viewing angles and detailed topographical data within Google Earth, the family was able to pinpoint the exact location of the fire. And using Google Earth's coordinates, they hiked to the area and found the wreckage of the plane.

The family has now set up a website detailing their process, which they call Mapped Archive of Rescue & Search Information (MARSI), in an effort to help others use Google Earth to the same advantage. While their story didn't end exactly happily, the family hopes that Google Earth can help others either find closure, as they did, or perhaps even help in future rescues.

And it shows that even with all the hoopla surrounding Google and its less-than-protective privacy policies, there are times when having all this data and information at your fingertips is a very good thing.

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