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MISSING MH370: Big search operation in Indian Ocean

Publication Date : 23-03-2014


A massive search and rescue operation for the missing Malaysian airliner is gathering pace in the southern Indian Ocean amid fears of a possible cyclone over the horizon.

Six planes scoured the treacherous waters yesterday, two more than when the operation started on Thursday after satellite images captured on Sunday revealed what were deemed to be floating pieces of wreckage from the airliner.

Two Chinese Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft are due to join the search operations from today and two other Japanese P3 Orion planes from tomorrow. An Indian P8 Poseidon and a C-130 plane have also reached Malaysia and is expected over the area soon.

Two merchant ships and an Australian naval vessel, HMAS Success, are already in the area. Several others, including seven from China and one from Britain, are steaming towards it.

The search area was broadened yesterday to 36,000 sq km - 11,000 more than previously - but so far, efforts to locate the wreckage have been fruitless despite favourable weather since Friday.

"It is a very remote area but we intend to continue the search until we are absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile and that day is not in sight," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters yesterday outside Pearce Air Force Base in Perth, now the staging area for the search and rescue efforts.

Four of the aircraft in the air yesterday were long-range P3 Orions from the Australian and New Zealand air forces and the remaining two were chartered ultra long-range commercial jets which spent up to five hours searching, three more than the military aircraft. It takes about four hours to get from the air base to the site, 2,500km away.

The crews are relying on visual identification of objects even though many of the aircraft are packed with advanced equipment - the Poseidon P8 used by the United States and India, for example, has radar with underwater detection capability. It can also fly as low as 300m above the water.

"It is primarily a visual search so we need to be low, to be close to the water and to be there as long as we can," Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Group Captain Craig Heap told reporters.

Search efforts are being aided by "self-locating data marker buoys" - normally used to detect submarines - and dropped into the water over the area since Thursday. They are now beaming current data and drift patterns to the Australian Maritime Safety.

Tropical Cyclone Gillian lashed Christmas Island yesterday but Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein yesterday expressed fears that the Category I cyclone may turn towards the search site, posing additional worry.

Captain Allison Norris of HMAS Success told the Sydney Morning Herald that she and her crew were depending on the weather "being kind to us" but the forecast for today suggests "sea states of three or four", which means waves of up to 4m.


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