Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Satellite Imaging Could Solve Nina Yacht Disappearance

Equusearch Executive Advisor, Ralph Baird, said the involvement of Texas Equusearch (TES) in the search for the missing yacht, Nina, would change the way search and rescue is done.  Baird said he was not sure how TES involvement would change search and rescue (SAR) at sea, but he was sure there would be changes for the better.  One of those changes is the use of satellite imaging if the government of New Zealand elects to take advantage of the opportunity.

A happy guest prepares to pay for his bargains

The Tasman Sea in the winter (our summer) is a remote and vicious climate.  Storm after storm ravage the Tasman Sea wreaking havoc on sailors.  To make matters worse, a few reefs pop up in the midst of the sea which are difficult to spot during heavy seas.  With ships avoiding the Tasman when possible, fewer eyes are available when things go wrong.  As if weather was not enough, circular currents strand disabled boats in the Tasman Sea for months.

The secret to any SAR operation is to figure out where an over-due yacht may be as quickly as possible before the yacht moves someplace else.  That process is painstakingly difficult in the Tasman Sea.  Satellite imagery may be the solution for rapid identification of potential targets.

TES has been using satellite imagery and a crowd sourcing social media site called Tomnod to speed up the search process.  Tomnod has been used successfully in many natural disasters.  However, the use of the site's crowd sourcing for sea rescues is relatively new.  The idea behind crowd sourcing, or gathering a crowd, is to use many non-trained eyes to do what a computer has difficulty doing, distinguisihing between odd objects and a yacht or liferaft.  When enough "non-experts" agree on the same image, statistics show the accuarcy of picks equals what a professional can do.

TES wants to take satellite imaging one major notch better.  They want to use the rapid data collection of satellite images.  Then the organization which searches for people all over America wants to apply object recognition software to identify the most likely prospects for the search for the Nina.

TES thinks it could provide a whole new market for the use of Digital Globe images through Tomnod.  It is a chance to do SAR in ways that New Zealand has not used before.  The big winners will be stranded sailors, like the crew of the Nina, which Baird says are no doubt afloat and waiting for rescue.  Another big winner is the country of New Zealand which is forced to spend huge tax payer sums searching for sailors from other nations when those sailors encounter problems in the Tasman Sea.

The Nina is a 1928 racing schooner which has become a national treasure after winning multiple races starting with the first year after being built.  A text message is the last known communication that has been received from the yacht since June 4th, 2013.  Seven sailors are aboard the yacht including crew member Danielle Wright.  Danielle's father,  Ricky Wright, refused to accept New Zealand search team speculation the yacht had sunk simply because the search was unable to find the yacht.  No wreckage or flotsam has ever been found from the Nina.

This past week, TES and the families raised significant sums so the search for the missing sailors may continue.  In addition, a US congressman now supports the efforts of TES and the families.


  1. Think of your Lady Domina search: after starting out with "Where is the Lady Domina now" you shifted to a question of "Did it ever leave port as initially alleged". Soon you were fairly satisfied with your new inquiry.

    I think the same process might well be applied to the use of satellite imagery. Its not always a question of "where is she now" but "where was she then".

    Consider the RCCNZ: they started out with an erroneous Last Known Position due to an over reliance on Iridium's doubtful GPS information and an under reliance on Evi's stated position since she was a 73 year old female. Had they known at the time that she was a smart as a whip navigator they might have used a different start point. Then RCCNZ started their drift modeling software, but the question is WHAT do we model? A Bare Poled Nina making four knots, a bare poled Nina with increasing engine cooling problems, a capsized Nina, a capsized Nina with masts, a capsized Nina that is dismasted, a life raft with the weight of all persons aboard or a life raft with the weight of only one person aboard? On what days and at what times should the drift modeling software change from one assumed shape to another shape? When does wind and current become factors of diverging effect in modeling software?

    One of the more sensible ways to use satellite images might be to use historical images from June first and then keep track of where the Nina was in order to find out where she is. Once located on historical images, the Nina could be followed so as to determine precisely when and where she transitioned from yacht to dismasted yacht.So the search becomes a Where WAS the Nina rather than a Where IS the Nina? Then when the next pass of the satellite fails to reveal confirming information of the Track.... you know to start the life raft modeling software.

    Sure the P3 Orion flights giving current hyperspectral pixels would be interesting as would current data on simultaneous use of multispectral imaging of UV and IR images, but the primary use of satellites would be to follow the track of the needle rather than to find the current location of the needle.

    1. Historical images would be great if they existed. Unfortunately, they don't generally exist for deep ocean events.


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