Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

Missing plane: Kiwi search crews 'very deflated'

A Royal Australian Air Force pilot steers his AP-3C Orion over the Southern Indian Ocean during the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
A Royal Australian Air Force pilot steers his AP-3C Orion over the Southern Indian Ocean during the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

The Kiwi air force crew searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane were "very deflated" after they failed to find any wreckage from the aircraft.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force crew has been assisting the search for missing Flight MH370, which disappeared almost two weeks ago with 239 people on board, including two New Zealanders.

Last night they joined Australian authorities attempting to scour a large section of the Southern Indian Ocean following satellite images showing two large objects floating on the surface.

The flight plan and search area that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will be concentrating on.
The flight plan and search area that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will be concentrating on.

However, nothing was found, and the search was abandoned for the night due to darkness and poor weather limiting visibility.

It is not yet known whether the Kiwis will be called on to take up the search again this afternoon NZT time, as they are scheduled for a rest day after spending 10 hours a day, four days in a row, searching the open ocean.

However, Air Commodore Mike Yardley, who heads up air force operations of joint forces New Zealand, said the crew is ready to take to the skies again if needed.

"I'd be happy to do that," he said.

"If they [the Australian Maritime Safety Authority] felt that there was enough urgency and asked for another day, we would certainly give them another day."

The crew have become emotionally vested in the search, he said.

"They are hugely committed to the cause. Once you've flown on these P3 Orions for 20 years you take it very personally that you're trying to find this aircraft to help those people who are left behind," he said.

"You feel that it's your responsibility, you're doing it to help people. It's not a job, it goes past a job when you're doing search and rescue."

He added: "They were very deflated actually, the crew, when they returned last night. They had hoped they were going to be out there and find something.

"They've seen those people [the families] on TV and they know how much it's hurting them and what it means just to be able to find these people."

The Royal New Zealand Air Force are also confident their equipment will pick up any debris if it is there.

"We have a very good aircraft to do this, we have very good sensors on board, so if we're put in the right place and there's something on the surface, I can guarantee that we'll find it," Mr Yardley said.

Last night the radar and sensors were picking up dolphins and whales which were close to the surface of the water, he said, which showed that despite poor visual conditions the technology continued to work "very well".

While he said he had "no idea'' if the objects spotted in the satellite images were from the missing aircraft, he was hopeful they were.

"It's certainly unusual in its size - 24 metres is very large," he said.

"All we can say is this is absolutely the best piece of information we've got, and we'll go out there until we can discount it."

Watch: Special weather report for the search for Flight 370

Video

Weather boosts search hopes

Australia is set to scramble five aircraft today to search the area where the two objects are thought to be located.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion departed for the search area about 9.15am Australian Eastern Daylight Time (11.15am NZ time).

A civil Gulfstream jet and a second RAAF P3 Orion took off for the search area about 11am (1pm NZT).

Meanwhile a third RAAF P3 Orion is due to join the search around 3pm this afternoon NZT, while a United States Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft will follow about 6pm NZT.

"Due to the distance to and from the search area, the aircraft involved have an endurance of approximately two hours of search time," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.


The satellite images of the mystery objects. Photo / AMSA

One merchant vessel is currently in the search area, and a second is due to arrive tonight to aid the search.

Improving weather conditions were expected to aid the search effort.

Grainy satellite imagery taken on Sunday detected a pair of floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean which Malaysia and Australia called a credible lead in the drawn-out hunt for the jet that vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Families continue to wait

Kiwis Paul Weeks and Ximin Wang are among the missing passengers.

Mr Weeks' wife, Danica, is waiting for news at her home in Perth. His Christchurch-based sister, Sarah Weeks, told the Herald last night she wasn't prepared to comment about the latest development until more was known about the possible debris.

Frustrated family members who have been waiting in Kuala Lumpur since the airline flew them to Malaysia to wait for news heard of the development through the media.

The airline had previously said it would text relatives with regular updates, but a support worker told the Herald it had not done so.


Photo / AP

A statement from the airline said: "The families have always been briefed first, followed by the media and then the public whenever new information surfaces."

It said unless the objects were confirmed to be the wreckage, the airline would not be sending any family members to Australia.

- APNZ

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