What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and where is it now?

Statistical tools can’t answer those questions any more definitively than Malaysian officials have. Yet they can help refine and focus the hunt for the plane and for a solution to the deepening mystery of its March 8 disappearance.

Bayesian statisticians are particularly helpful in a search operation. Their methods allow hunters to update their estimates of the probability of finding their target in any latitude-longitude combination — or even in three dimensions, accounting for depth in the water. Bayesians helped hunt U-boats in World War II, a U.S. submarine in the 1960s and an Air France jet in 2011.