After Air France flight 447 disappeared off the Brazilian coast shortly after takeoff on the night of May 31, 2009, French aviation authorities were keen to find out what had gone wrong. To do that, they needed to find the wreckage, especially the plane’s flight data recorders (black boxes). The only problem: The impact site was unknown.

To narrow the search, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (BEA) called upon oceanographic experts from 11 institutes around the world to assess where the wreckage most likely lay, based on ocean currents and on the final position that the plane’s navigation computer had automatically broadcast. Those experts produced a 750-square-mile search area about 50 miles north of the plane’s last known position.