Local researchers join search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane

SAN DIEGO - A team of local researchers has joined the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane without leaving San Diego.

Inside the Visualization Center at San Diego State University, there is a vision in concentration and focus.

"You look at one image, then go the next image and then the next," said Eric Frost, director of the Visualization Center.

There is image after image of the ocean, from government and private satellites, gathered by Digital Globe, a Colorado company founded by former UC San Diego engineering students.

Since the Malaysian aircraft disappeared last weekend, some 600,000 volunteers have logged on to help scan images and look for clues.

Among the volunteers are Frost and a small group at the 3-D imaging Vizlab, which also scanned images after the Boston Marathon bombing.

How tough is the challenge? 10News looked at a sample image the Vizlab scanned, which was approximately a four-square block of ocean. In the immediate search area, where the plane was thought to have disappeared, there are millions of these images.

The search at Vizlab includes an extra tool -- algorithms that can help scan for things like oil slicks.

Right after the plane disappeared, an aerial photo of an oil slick off Malaysia's coast surfaced.

Reporter Michael Chen asked, "How soon after you saw that oil slick did you know it was not from a plane crash?"

"Immediately," said Waldo Kleynhans, a visiting researcher.

Kleynhans said a plane crash would produce a blob-like mass, not an oil trail.

Kleynhans then made his own discovery in the waters off Vietnam.

"We have identified an oil slick about 10 miles long," said Kleynhans.

He helped the overall hunt by quickly ruling out that slick as a possibility, determining that slick also came from a boat.

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