Is this Steve Fossett’s plane?

UPDATE: A fellow pointed out to me in an email that others had located this same plane BUT that shadows make it appear to be a plane in flight vs. on the ground. Slashdot thread here. SUNDAY A.M.: A tired Sergeant from the Mono County Sheriff’s called that they’d combed this area already and wanted me to know. Even though I expressed my apology for reaching out beyond channels, he stopped me to let me know that he was *very* appreciative of all efforts expended by satellite imagery searchers and eased my mind that I hadn’t (even with all my best intentions) diverted search and rescue (SAR) efforts.

I’ve communicated with the Amazon Mechanical Turk folks that are coordinating this imagery search effort on how challenging it is to communicate with them in the event of discovery — which is why I took my own steps to reach out to the SAR folks. They’re working on methods to streamline their interface (and make it easier to communicate findings to one, central point) so this sort of thing is intuitive and easy to do in the future.

My wife is out of town and it’s a Saturday night at home with my 12 year old son. Reading this Slashdot article, I thought “Hey…why not do something useful tonight instead of watching TV?” and I went to this Amazon Mechanical Turk site to help out in the search for Steve Fossett by scouring a detailed satellite image for any signs of what might look like a small, white plane.

About three hours into the search, I found the white plane above. At first thinking “Nah…this is too obvious,” I couldn’t let it slide and immediately tried to find a way to alert the authorities through the Amazon site, but just couldn’t figure out how to do it with any sort of urgency.

So I instead did a quick search and found the woman (Major Cynthia Ryan) who is running the search for the Nevada Civil Air Patrol. Her voicemail left her home phone but it’s been busy for over an hour. I next called the dispatcher for the local sheriff’s office near where the search central is (Minden, NV) and left the latitude and longitude coordinates with the dispatcher.

For some reason I was troubled. I plugged the coordinates into Google Maps and was dismayed by the significantly lower resolution imagery, but I could see more macro level detail and realized that the plane I found is in California and specifically within Mono County.

Next call was to the Mono County Sheriff’s Office who has the data now. The dispatcher, John, actually called me back to the get the latitude and longitude coordinates since he didn’t do it on the first call we had. He sure sounded more urgent so we’ll see.

The plane looks intact and I sure hope Fossett is found a bit busted up but alive.

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  1. Jonathan on September 8, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    You can get the more detailed map data if you disable the ‘primary databsae’ in Google Earth, close Google Earth, download the .kml file from the Amazon site, and open the KML file, which opens in Google Earth.

    If you’re seeing color data, you’re not seeing the new data.

  2. on September 8, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    38 29′ 2.59″ N
    119 24′ 22.00″ W

  3. Donatus on September 8, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    You should call them back and undo what you did. You have diverted search and resque resources based on incomplete knowledge.

    You simply found a search plane flying above the trees. You better call them.

  4. Andy on September 9, 2007 at 12:32 am

    I’ve done over 500 views now and the best I’ve found is at 38.193283,-119.449539

    It looks like a plane has landed on a slope but it’s 6:30am so I’m probably just imagining it!

  5. Donatus on September 9, 2007 at 5:32 am

    It is also a good contribution to show people how to do the search, and what to look for, like you did in your blog.

    What you did might help Steve by increasing awareness across the internet because we need more people to help. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t his plane in your photo or anyone elses too.

  6. Dave Troy on September 9, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Why is everyone so sure this plane is in-flight? Or that the area has been properly searched?

    I came across this too and submit:

    If the airplane pictured was in flight, I would expect that it would appear very slightly larger than if it were sitting on the ground.

    I measured the wingspan of the aircraft as-is and it came to 29.19 ft. Nose to tail it is 25.23 ft. The spec of the Bellanca Super Decathlon lists the wingspan at 32ft.

    I freely admit that it could be a flying plane, but it seems to me that this is very likely a crash site of a small plane. Otherwise it’s a *very* small plane flying quite low.

    Perhaps my math and/or reasoning is off but this still looks like a candidate to me. Thoughts?

  7. Shaun on September 9, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Has anyone noticed the other plane, just a few hundred metres in front of this one?

  8. Rabbit wants an iPhone on September 10, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Hi, is the data I see on google earth live? or does it refresh by the minute, hour or day?

  9. Steve Borsch on September 10, 2007 at 10:15 am

    It’s *recent* data from last Monday I think. The company that supplies the satellite images updated Google to deliver images that could be used for the search after Fossett went missing.

  10. Roy on September 10, 2007 at 11:26 am

    You did a good thing calling in even if you thought it was just a plane flying overhead, when it comes to someones life its best to try and help as much as possible. Not sure why people are saying you shouldn’t have called it in, the more help Fossett can get the better I believe.

  11. Steve Borsch on September 10, 2007 at 1:08 pm


    I thought initially that calling in was the right thing. Unfortunately, it’s not since imagine dozens or hundreds of us doing so? The search and rescue folks would get nothing done. At least Amazon coordinating sightings — and having other sets of eyeballs looking at the same image(s) — then lets them contact the right people.

    That’s why I’m saying I shouldn’t have called in. No-harm, no-foul this one time, but I’m smarter and wiser about it now.


  12. INTELTEK on September 10, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    It IS a plane in flight and, more importantly, it is a low-winged aircraft vs the high-wing type flown by Mr. Fossett. Note the shadow at the wing root, breaking up what should be a solid, unbroken surface if this was a high-wing aircraft

  13. INTELTEK on September 10, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    If you have contacts with official serarchers or Google, please give them my e-mail and tell them that they need to put the fresh imagery on Google Earth and mark what is new. Pro imagery interpreters can scan huge swaths of territory in a short period of time, but we have to know what is current imagery or it is wasted. Pros know what to look for an what to ignore. Look not only for a plane but for ground scars, downed trees where others stand. The Amazon Mechanical Turk is fantastic but professionals could contribute much more than we can currently. We just need to know what the parameters of new imagery are. It’s vital

  14. INTELTEK on September 10, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    All of the imagery from Google is posed “upside-down.” This is due to the orbital inclination of the satellite and the fact that, by convention, imagery is supposed to oriented with North at the top of the image so that it can be easily comnpared to maps that are oriented the same way.

    However, when examining imagery, you always want the shadows to fall TOWARD you. It is an optical illusion, a trick of the eye, but when so oriented, the image becomes much more easy to understand and comprehend. Take the photo mentioned in this thread and posted on this website. Copy it into Paintbrush and then select FLIP/ROTATE, then the second option, FLIP VERTICAL. The image that appears is exactly the same but looks much more natural.

    Now, here’s a REALLY neat trick. If Google could make adjoining frames available with overlapping coverage, you can take images with a 60% overlap, which means that the 60% of the imagery within two adjoining frames is the same, you then position them so that a common object or point on the images is separated by 2-1/4 inches. Cut small holes in a sheet of index card or thick paper, with the centers the same distance of 2-1/4, to isolate the view of one eye from the other, and your brain will combine the two images so that they stand out in three dimensions. You will literally see this aircraft lifted “off” of the trees and see it at the altitude that it is really flying above the ground. There are special stereo viewers made for professionals but you can rig one by hand with paper or toilet paper rolls or other tubes. The key is to shield your eyes so that only one eye is looking at one image and the other is only looking at the other frame. It won’t work, otherwise. It may take a little practice without a real stereo viewer but keep trying, The result is worth the effort

  15. INTELTEK on September 10, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Regarding the altitude of the plane in Steve’s “hit,” it is in flight but you cannot see its shadow because it is either out of the frame at an extreme angle (note the long shadows on the taller trees) or it has fallen on the trees and been so distorted that it can’t be made out as the silhouette of a plane.

    If this were a real crash site, the tops of the tress would be damaged and at least some tree branches would have overlapped the wings and fuselage as the heavier aircraft pressed down into the foliage. It is also likely that even in a soft landing, parts of the plane would be crumpled, bent or broken off. This plane is intact and the edges are not broken by the darker shapes of trees and their branches.

    Having said that, nobody should feel intimidated or embarrassed by making a wrong call. It takes years of training and experience. The tech school for imagery interpreters was nine months long and one of the longest that the Air Force provides. It is an extremely complex skill to learn because you need to know how to identify a wide range of man-made objects at a moment’s notice, plus learn mapping, mensuration (measuring objects on film), optics, behavior and characteristics of light, and then a lot of experience with different kinds of terrain. In the Sierras, you have it all, from alpine woodlands to barren rock faces, to scrub vegetation and mountain grasslands. Even in summer, there are still patches of snow, white patches that might easily be mistaken for parts of a white airplane.

    The reason that imagery interpreters are no longer called PHOTO interpreters is because technology has gone beyond optical cameras and wet film. Today, you have infrared imagery for scanning at night and in poor conditions, as well as radar imagery with synthetic aperature radars that are now almost as detailed as optical images.
    It is no simple task and takes a skill developed over a great length of time, but everybody can pick out what doesn’t look right and feed it on for further analysis.

    Anybody who tries to scan the images in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is to be commended for their efforts and should feel no embarrassment or regret for having done so. The whole purpose is to have as many eyes as possible to pick up clues that are fed to experts. You are filtering imagery so that a limited number of experts can then focus on those potential sightings rather than scanning hundreds of square miles on their own. My only regret is that it doesn’t appear that Google has been able to apply all of the most recent imagery to their Google Earth application and mark it as such. If that could be done, I believe that professional imagery interpreters could more quickly screen large areas of territory, and time is of the essence here.

  16. A on September 10, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    I am looking for somewhere to post this –

    Does this look like a charred plane to anybody else?

    119° 6’58.87″W

  17. vesa eloranta on September 11, 2007 at 12:50 am


    119° 2’14.01″W

  18. EZ on September 11, 2007 at 2:17 am

    Here is another one:

    38°33’44.53″N 119°19’36.84″W

  19. Chris Royles on September 12, 2007 at 2:14 am

    And another one on the latest colour photography.
    119° 2’14.44″W
    If Googles latest photography includes search planes then they are going to get a lot of folse positives. Need a KML file of known locations as well as details of the ranch, fuel limit etc, the feedback to the population is very poor at the moment, no mention as to where to send any candidates either.

  20. INTELTEK on September 12, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    If you find something, select the yes or no dots below the image on Mechanical Turk and specialists will review it. Posting coordinates here accomplishes nothing unless you copied the image. One drawback of the system is that there is no going back to review and no ability for others to pull it up and look. I’ve had problems with the KML file in Google Earth and only only imagery is available there. I would be willing to look at any photos that members of this list want to have reviewed, but I can’t pull up current imagery from just the cooordinates.

  21. INTELTEK on September 12, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Sorry, meant to indicate that Google Earth–at least on my system–has only OLD imagery. I have been pushing for Google to just update the imagery on their Google Earth website and make it available to all. As is, I can only access 85m sq frames on Amazon’s Mechnical Turk program and there is no way to retrive or back unless you save the imagery. You can copy it, paste into Paintbrush, flip it over for a more natural view and expand and even lighten it where very dark, as many are. However, unless a trained analyst, i would not recommend spending a lot of time in doing that. Instead, just screen through their thouands of images and see if you can find anything that is more obvious. It isn’t just a matter of skill but volume of area to search. Even untrained observers can spot things that don’t look like they belong and then turn over to expert for review. That’s what the buttons below the images on Mechanical Turk are designed for.

  22. Jessica on September 12, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    I posted this on another site. There appears to be something white in this picture. If you turn off the new data in google earth, this object is not in that picture.


  23. Daniel Kane on September 12, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Has anyone seen this one?
    Looks about the right length andseems to be high up a mountain. How do I submit it to mTurk if I found it panning around on Google Earth

  24. INTELTEK on September 13, 2007 at 4:26 am

    Jessica, could you please identify the site you posted your image to. I may be able evaluate it.

    As for the question about getting info to Google from looking on their site, that has been a huge issue. Google has no method for communicating with them. Perhaps contacting Steve Fossett’s website or the Civil Air Patrol, but I couldn’t get any response from the Fossett site and the attitude of the CAP seems to be that this is a wasted effort and not something they care about. If they feel differently, they might want to step and clarify, because I haven’t heard them say much about the internet search that is positive.

    On that note, if they are chasing old wrecks, they would also be chasing the same thing from their own search, so what is the problem? Besides, finding these wrecks eliminates them fron this search and others in the future.

    By the way, I have tried to get a look at new imagery on Google but have not been able to get their KML file to work. Reloaded Google Earth, no change. Anybody have a clue what the probelm is? C’mon, Google, step up and update the imagery so that nothing special has to be done to see it!!

  25. EZ on September 13, 2007 at 11:04 am


    For many people, submitting through Mechanical Turk just does not work. The radio buttons are disabled, can’t select anything.

    Looks like the original poster ran into this same problem.

  26. INTELTEK on September 13, 2007 at 1:21 pm


    When the buttons are disabled, look at the top and note that you have to ACCEPT a HIT. Once you do, this opens up access to the buttons. Just below the ACCEPT is a box to automatically accept the next one.

    After you do a bunch, they will suddenly be disabled again because you need to copy the code word that they have at the top, and reset your ACCEPT AUTOMATICALLY feature. If you don’t check that box, you will constantly have to accept each individual hit. Some bugs to be ironed out but better than nothing. It was really ragged when it first started but Amazon has been very helpful in accommodating changes and suggestions.

  27. Jarek Juszkiewicz on September 14, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    What do you think about this ? 38° 1’17.87″N, 119°24’22.37″W

  28. INTELTEK on September 16, 2007 at 3:33 am

    I can’t evaluate any new photos unless somebody can post them here or link to a site where they can be. For some reason, no matter what I do, my Google Earth will not accept the new kml file that needs to be used to gain access to the new imagery. Sorry

  29. Steve Borsch on September 16, 2007 at 11:43 am

    “I can’t evaluate any new photos unless somebody can post them here or link to a site where they can be.”

    Ahh….why would you evaluate or post anything *here* or evaluate some miscellaneous imagery someone posted some place else on the Web? I’m just some guy who participated in the attempt to discover any anomalies in the satellite imagery and then blogged about it as are any other places (e.g., forums) where you’d find said imagery.

    Below is the Amazon Mechanical Turk URL which is the *only* place (and singular focal point) for analysis of the satellite imagery and the feedback from any of us involved in the effort. Also, I have no idea why you can’t simply open the kml file in Google Earth but there is a User Guide here that will help:

    Amazon Mechanical Turk URL:

  30. Steve Borsch on September 16, 2007 at 11:46 am

    One more note for everyone posting latitude and longitudes.

    Every single one of the above coordinates have been found over-n-over again and I’ve seen several postings of them on what I’d mentioned above (other blogs, on forums, etc.).

    Again, only use the Amazon Mechanical Turk site. It’s REALLY unfortunate that they haven’t added a forum for the search so there wouldn’t have to be ANY scattered discussions in other places but instead all of us would congregate within said forum. I have a contact at Amazon to whom I’ll make this suggestion.

  31. James Russell on October 9, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    Someone might want to check38.414111,-118.460438. This is an image submerged in a lake. I looks to be a small aircraft with one wing.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.