As a hydrographic surveyor, College of Charleston alumnus Ransom White ’06 has traveled the world using sonar equipment to map the sea floor.

Ransom White '06

Ransom White ’06

Now he’s putting his skills to the test on one of the largest and most technologically advanced aviation searches in history: the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The Boeing 777 was carrying 239 people when it mysteriously disappeared without a trace on March 8, 2014. The initial search effort was eventually suspended to enable Australian authorities to refine the search area, which extends across some 23,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.

Ransom, who majored in geology in the School of Sciences and Mathematics, is working on board the GO Phoenix, one of three ships that will take part in the new search. He answered a few questions for The College Today about how he got the job and what it entails:

Q: Where are you currently and what is your role in the search?

A: I am currently searching along the predicted trajectory and crash site for Malaysian Air flight MH370. We are using SL Hydrospheric’s Synthetic Aperture Sonar, which collects some of the deepest and highest resolution imagery data available today, less than 10cm.

SL Hydrospheric’s Synthetic Aperture Sonar.

SL Hydrospheric’s Synthetic Aperture Sonar.

My role is mainly to process the imagery and bathymetric data in order to search for debris from the wreckage. However, everyone on board must multitask. Jobs range from equipment launch and recovery to the occasional troubleshooting of hardware/software.

Q: How did you get on this particular mission?

A: Working and working more. Every job you meet new people and learn how to use/troubleshoot new equipment. Networking is key and being open to new jobs/adventures will make that happen. You have to accept the fact that you WILL be uncomfortable from time to time in different job scenarios, but the minute you start shutting doors they don’t open very easily again.

RELATED: Read more about Ransom White in “I Want Your Job.”

Q: How long will you be at sea?

A: Total? A looooong time. I plan on being home sometime in December. Jobs can range from a few weeks to a few months.

Q: Describe a typical shift.

A: My shift is floating, which means I work when there is work to do and sleep/exercise when I finish. It works out to roughly 12 hours a day, which is a normal shift. I mostly work on data and search for targets at the computer, but I go touch base with the guys in the acquisition container on deck once in a while to see how the new data is looking. Once in a while the shift is broken by equipment recovery/launch, and it’s an all-hands situation … or a dang fire drill.

The GO Phoenix, one of the ships taking part in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The GO Phoenix, one of the ships taking part in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Q: With so much international attention focused on the missing airliner and the search, what are your thoughts about being part of such an important mission?

A: I am incredibly honored to be here searching for closure on what has affected so many. I take it very seriously. That being said, we have fun out here just doing what we enjoy, and if you do this for a living you can’t help but love to be at sea!

Q: What are some of the specialties of the people you are working with?

A: It takes many different skill sets to have a successful team. We are all surveyors and do specifically offshore survey work, however, some specialize in electronics, some in engineering, some in the sciences and some in computer software. We all overlap skillsets, but we know who is essential for what task, of which there are countless.

Q: You were exposed to sea floor mapping at the College of Charleston through Geology Professor Leslie Sautter and Project Oceanica. What advice can you offer to students interested in offshore careers like yours?


  • Meet and befriend Dr. Leslie Sautter!
  • Love (or at least like) the sea.
  • Don’t get easily frustrated.
  • Don’t assume your job is more important than anyone else’s on board.
  • Love to travel!
RELATED: Learn more about geology professor Leslie Sautter.