Ocean search has many challenges for finding flight MA370

Missing Malaysian plane: Search area goes from 'chessboard to football field'

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.

By Alexandra Field and Susanna Capelouto

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