The search for MH370 is still absurdly difficult. Let’s put it in perspective.

Compared to how things were last week, narrowing the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 down to one relatively defined area is a big step.

It does not, however, mean that finding the plane is going to be an easy task.

The Indian Ocean is incredibly vast, so to put that in perspective, here's the latest search areas from the Australian government, overlaid on a map of the United States. As you can see, conducting a search like this is like attempting to search Texas from New York City.

The scale of the search for MH370 (Laris Karklis / Washington Post)
The scale of the search for MH370 (Laris Karklis / Washington Post)

The one big problem is that the area being searched, which was described as the size of Alaska at one point, is still enormous. It's also incredibly far away from the nearest land. The sparsely populated French Southern and Antarctic lands are approximately 1,000 miles away, while the largest major city, Perth, is even farther. That distance is also a big issue: Mike Barton, the rescue coordination chief at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has told the Post that the biggest challenge is the “remoteness from anywhere" that meant search planes will be operating at the limit of their fuel supply.

There are other issues too, not least the depth of this southern part of the Indian Ocean is 23,000 feet at some points, according to the Associated Press, and the area has been experiencing rough weather conditions. So, while it's true that the search has come a long way in the past few days, let's not forgot – this is still an enormous task.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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Adam Taylor · March 25