Plane Wreck Mystery Solved with Google Earth

There are so many great ways Google Earth can be used to help people. TechCrunch posted a story this weekend of a family who finally discovered a plane crash site which had been a mystery for over two years (the family had lost loved ones in the crash). A very interesting part of the story is that someone, who had been searching for Steve Fossett’s crash with Google Earth, actually provided the key piece of information. It turned out there was a forest fire, on the same day, and in the approximate area of this crash (not Fosset’s) . This person realized it was the same date and contacted the family. After checking the facts, and using Google Earth to plan a scouting mission, the family went there and found the plane wreck. The family has now put together a web page describing how they used Google Earth to help.
This is just a really brief summary of the story. I highly recommend reading TechCrunch’s excellent write-up.
During the hunt for Steve Fossett’s crash site, tens of thousands of people checked imagery in Google Earth/Maps that had been released after the crash site. But, there was not enough detail in the imagery to see the wreckage. It wasn’t until a hiker discovered some personal items identified to be Steve Fossett’s that a closer search found the wreckage. Google Earth did play a small role in discovering the location of Fossett’s crash site based on a ground-level photo – before they released the location to the public. But, now, the same hunt resulted in solving this other mystery allowing the family to get some closure.
Just a few related stories of Google Earth coming to the rescue:

  • Hurricane Katrina – Google Earth helped rescuers and residents with emergency efforts and damage assessments.
  • Pakistan Earthquake – Again GE helps in rescue and damage assessment efforts
  • Sichuan Earthquake – GE helps visualize earthquake location
  • California Fires – on multiple occasions Google Maps and GE have been used to help with fires in California. These maps and satellite photos have helped rescue workers, residents, and even people just trying to avoid the areas.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. Wow, it’s amazing how someone, or something can help someone in so many ways. I’m glad that Google Earth can help. I never knew the program could help with events such as Hurricane Katrina or the Pakistan Earthquake. Hope they can keep up the wonderful work.

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