Fast moving waters could stymie searchers in southern Indian Ocean

Searching the waters of the southern Indian Ocean is an enormous challenge.

The part of the Indian Ocean where possible wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been spotted is called the roaring 40's -- 40 degrees south of the Equator known for strong westerly winds that whip up large swells. After 12 days in these fast moving waters any wreckage on the surface could have traveled 250 miles from where a plane crashed.

Large swells are typical of this part of the Indian Ocean CBS News
"There's a reason why we've only explored 7 percent of this planet beneath the waves, because it's very difficult," said oceanographer David Gallo, who helped track down the wreckage of Air France Flight 447.

That debris was recovered 2 1/2 miles below the surface of the Atlantic.

"There's no GPS, there's no radio communications, there's no power, we have to bring our own," Gallo said. "Lights don't go very far."

The search area is 1,500 miles away and it could take weeks to get equipment there CBS News
It took a French nuclear sub, three robotic subs, $50 million dollars and two years to find the Air France jet. That was after finding wreckage just two days after it crashed.

It could take weeks to get equipment the 1,500 miles to this search area and find submerged wreckage. It could take months more to recover it, working in a meteorological boundary line between pockets of equatorial and Antarctic air that often causes violent storms.

A satellite spotted possible wreckage CBS News

"You've got to deal with currents, you've got to deal with visibility, you've got to deal with things like wind and waves if the ocean acts up,"

The ocean floor where the possible debris was spotted is three miles deep, a half a mile deeper than the Air France flight.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.