Off the Map
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Finding the way home in Google Earth
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, a boy was separated from his family. Saroo was only five years old when he accidentally boarded a train in Khandwa, India, and ended up in Calcutta 14 hours later. In 2012, Saroo Brierly, 31, used his memories and Google Earth to find his way back to his home and family.
Saroo and his older brother worked as train sweepers in Khandwa, India. One day in 1986, Saroo decided to take a fateful nap at the train station; when he woke up he did not see his brother, and in a panic boarded a stationary train expecting to find him inside. The train departed the station for a long journey across the country, separating him from his family by 1,500 km.
At the age of 5, Saroo had to fend for himself on the streets of Calcutta. After living in fear for some time, he was eventually taken in by an orphanage. This led to his adoption out of India and into Australia, by the Brierley family. As Saroo grew older, his desire to find his birth family never faded. In 2011, armed with only his memories and Google Earth imagery, he was able to identify his home town.
"It was just like being Superman. You are able to go over and take a photo mentally and ask, 'Does this match?' And when you say, 'No', you keep on going and going and going." -- Saroo Brierley
The key to narrowing down the correct area in Google Earth was the Ruler tool. Saroo knew how long he was on the train and the average speed of trains in India at the time. Using this information he was able to estimate his starting point to narrow his search area. From there he was able to identify landmarks from his childhood.
After using Google Earth to locate the waterfall he used to play in as a child, Saroo Brierley was prepared to make a trip from Australia to India. In 2012, he finally returned to Khandwa. Although his mother no longer lived in his childhood home, neighbors were able to locate her nearby. After 24 years, they were finally reunited.