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You are at: Wagner Home > Technologies > Mission Planning > Search Optimization > Famous Searches

Famous Searches

Daniel H. Wagner Associates is a consulting firm with a unique connection to the search and salvage process. One of the specialty areas for Wagner Associates is search and surveillance. Wagner consultants have provided scientific planning, analysis, and on-site support for a number of high visibility searches.


In each of these searches, the scientific search planning techniques contributed significantly to the search effort. Wagner Associates can provide similar consulting assistance to you, saving you and your organization valuable search time and money.

Wagner's consulting services are most often requested when the location of the target is uncertain and the search resources including time and money are limited. The mathematical principles of probability analysis used to plan the optimal search area for the USS Scorpion in the late 1960s have evolved to where, at present, the probability calculations and search grid planning functions are now accomplished in a fraction of the time it took just four or five years ago.

MELIAN II Search Software    

The firm uses a comprehensive computer program designed under contract to the US Army Space and Strategic Defense Command to plan and support search and recovery of missile debris in the Marshall Islands. The current program, MELIAN II, not only provides the probability analysis and search planning but also drives the search vessel using autopilot, while it stores all sensor data and ownship information to rewriteable optical disc, from which the entire mission can be replayed.

In addition to their support of underwater search and survey operations, Wagner is a leading developer of computerized search systems, including the latest computer aided search programs for the US Coast Guard search and rescue, for Navy Surface Surveillance operations, and for Navy minefield clearance.

Shuttle Challenger Search    

The search and recovery operation following the 1986 Challenger disaster was one of the biggest planning and coordination efforts ever undertaken. Wagner Associates was responsible for developing and operating computer systems that kept track of all the sonar tracks run and all the contacts that were identified by numerous search vessels.

Wagner's consultants were on site continuously for over six months and used computers to prepare detailed maps of the underwater wreckage. Samples of these maps can be seen in the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Accident, Volume III.

More information about the Challenger Accident.

SS Central America Search  

In September of 1857, the 2100 ton SS Central America set sail from Panama en route to New York. For most passengers, it was the final leg of a journey that had begun in the California gold fields. Halfway into her passage, the ship encountered a hurricane. Trapped in raging winds for three days, she sank on September 12, approximately 200 miles out to sea.

On board, the ship carried more than three tons of gold. In 1986, the Columbus America Discovery Group was formed to locate the wreck of the Central America, and recover the gold and historical artifacts.

Constraints on the project were severe. The company was operating on limited resources. Information on the last reported position of the ship was contradictory. Records on weather, tide, and ocean current were voluminous but inconsistent. Suitable weather for search and recovery was limited to a few months a year. With these considerations, Columbus America Discovery Group commissioned Wagner Associates to determine the most likely shipwreck locations.

Our ultimate objective was to construct a probability map estimating the wreck's candidate locations from high probability to low probability. This map enabled our client to plan the search, and estimate the the amount of time, effort, and money necessary to ensure a high probability of success.

We considered two approaches -

  1. pooling all of the relevant data
  2. partitioning the data based on three separate scenarios

We chose the second approach. Using models and software developed for search and rescue, we computed the required probability map for each scenario. Each map was valued according to the reliability of the underlying data. Ultimately the maps were combined to generate the single recommended search area.

Using our methods, the Columbus America Discovery Group located the SS Central America -- along with approximately four hundred million dollars in gold.

Motor Vessel Derbyshire Search  

In 1980, the Motor Vessel Derbyshire, the largest British ship ever lost at sea went down 200NM east of Okinawa. The ship sunk so rapidly that the crew was unable to send an SOS. Families of the victims and others had long believed that structural failure contributed to the loss, as other ships of the same class had experienced similar failures. Resolving this question would require locating and examining the wreck.

One famous expert had declared the ship to be unlocatable. Oceaneering had estimated that the search would take ten days to two weeks, but the sponsors of the search had only enough money to mount a search for a few days.  In 1994, Wagner Associates was approached by Oceaneering Technologies Corporation to volunteer assistance in developing a search plan. Using a preliminary version of the MELIAN II SEARCH AND RECOVERY SYSTEM, Wagner combined the clues to define a small search area and a four day search plan. The wreck was found on the first day of searching, thereby saving the significant cost of additional search effort.

Motor Vessel Lucona Search  

In 1977, the Motor Vessel Lucona sank in the Indian Ocean after a mysterious explosion in good weather. The Master and five others survived and six crew perished. In 1990, Wagner Associates analyzed all the evidence and documentation and then developed a probability map and search plan that led to the successful location of the wreck.

The results of the successful search by Oceaneering, based on this careful search plan, was that the sinking was found to be deliberate and fraudulent, and the responsible party charged with insurance fraud and murder.

USS Scorpion Search  

On May 22, 1968, the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) sank while on a routine transit from the Mediterranean to Norfolk, Virginia. There were many theories as to why the Scorpion went down and several clues as to the location. Wagner Associates helped develop the search plan and worked with salvagers and planners on scene to compute the probability of detection and predict how long the search would last. This famous incident and its ground breaking methods were written up in scientific journals.

Air Force H-Bomb Search 

On January 17, 1966, an Air Force Bomber accidentally dropped four H-Bombs near Palomares Spain. Three fell on land but one dropped into the sea. Again, there were conflicting ideas about what happened and at least one clue to location, given by a fisherman who apparently saw the bomb hit the water. Wagner Associates developed the search plan and consulted on scene. The bomb was found by the search and later safely recovered.


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