Satellite company DigitalGlobe's online crowdsourcing platform experienced an unprecedented number of visitors within the first 24 hours of a campaign to locate the missing Malaysian aircraft using Earth imagery, causing its servers to crash before rebooting Tuesday evening.

More than 500,000 unique visitors within the first day throttled the Longmont geospatial company's Tomnod system.

"It was probably late (Monday) night we started seeing some of the 'tremors.' And the 'quake' hit late (Tuesday) morning when we were getting 100,000 people visiting per hour," said Luke Barrington, DigitalGlobe's senior manager of geospatial big data.

The satellite Earth-imagery company launched the campaign Monday . The Tomnod crowdsourcing platform relies on Internet users to identify and tag debris, structures and other items related to natural disasters, man-made crises or other human-interest situations.

The largest crowd Tomnod had ever handled prior to this event was 10,000 contributors over the course of several months. But within the first day of this campaign to find Malaysia Airlines' missing MH370 aircraft, Tomnod logged more than 80,000 contributors.

DigitalGlobe's revenue stream relies heavily on large government contracts and commercial clients, but Tomnod and other elements of its crises response are free services.


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"DigitalGlobe is doing all of this work for free, just like the Tomnod users are doing it for free," Barrington said. "That's all part of our vision of seeing a better world and is a large reason I work here."

When the website restarted, users had fresh photos of an area 10 times as large as the original campaign.

"We collected 14 new shots in the past 24 hours covering a much larger area," Barrington said. "It's covering the entire entrance to the gulf of Thailand."

Users tagged about 1,200 square miles originally. The new images cover a swath of nearly 15,500 square miles of ocean.

News reports Tuesday suggest the aircraft may have veered hundreds of miles off course. The reports cited sources within the Malaysian military who said its radar located the plane over the Strait of Malacca before it disappeared.

"I know that the guys in our analysis center have been monitoring all of the news. And I believe that they are reprioritizing to look to the east in the Strait of Malacca," Barrington said, noting those fresh images will be online as soon as available.

The airplane, which was carrying 239 people, lost communication over the weekend while on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The disappearance continued to mystify investigators from around the globe four days later.

Kristen Leigh Painter: 303-954-1638, kpainter@denverpost.com or twitter.com/kristenpainter