Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Flight MH370: Relief Kiwi air crew ready to take over long search from colleagues

Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion on the tarmac at the Royal Australian Airforce Base Pearce, near Perth. Photo / NZDF
Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion on the tarmac at the Royal Australian Airforce Base Pearce, near Perth. Photo / NZDF

The Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel stationed in Perth to help search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are due for a break, meaning some will return to New Zealand after almost three weeks.

The No5 Squadron, made up of 12 aircrew, an air liaison officer and four aircraft maintenance staff, were sent from the Whenuapai base on March 10 to Malaysia to join the search for MH370.

Eight days later, after debris was spotted in the southern Indian Ocean 2500km off the coast of Perth, they were moved to Western Australia.

Photos: RNZAF Orion searches for missing plane

They have been working from the Royal Australian Air Force Pearce Base at Bullsbrook, north of Perth.

The crew have carried out four search flights of around 11 hours, with a 12-hour rest between.

The crew have flown 95.5 hours since they were sent to help in the search. Of those, 30 have been spent searching.

Each crew member is allowed to log 150 hours of flying time in a month, meaning some will be required to take a compulsory break.

The Herald understands those approaching their limit will return to New Zealand and be replaced with fresh crew members.

Photos: The faces of flight 370

The current crew are staying in central Perth at the Hyatt Hotel, as there is no room on the small base to accommodate them.

The base has about 300 full-time personnel, as well as students enrolled at its flying school.

Squadron Leader Flight Lieutenant Leon Fox said there was no plan to pull the Kiwi contingent from the search operation.

He said most crew were given only eight hours' notice that they were being sent on the mission.

Mr Fox, who has worked on other high-profile search and rescue missions including the sinking of the Princess Ashika ferry and the Samoan tsunami, said it was difficult being away from home for so long, but the crew were passionate about their jobs and there were no complaints.

He was looking forward to getting back to New Zealand, as he and his wife learned a few days ago that they were expecting twin girls.

Video: Malaysian flight MH370 crashed

As of last night, no decision had been made as to how long the RNZAF crew would continue their search efforts.

On Monday, while the Kiwi crew had a day off, their Australian comrades made the discovery everyone had been hoping for.

Crew on board the RAAF's P-3 Orion spotted two pieces of debris.

The behaviour of the crew when they arrived back from the search about 4.30pm on Monday was indicative of news.

Reporters gathered at the edge of the airfield to wait for the pilot to come and give a statement.

At the last minute, an RAAF officer approached the group and announced the pilot "was no longer available".

He said the pilot had to go "straight into a briefing".

It is now clear the briefing was to deliver the news that two pieces of debris had been spotted. It is not yet clear whether that debris is connected to MH370.

Video: MH370: Family members grieve

Meanwhile, back at the base the mood was remarkably different from previous days. The area set up for the large media contingent was much quieter, though frustrated journalists from around the world continued to pace and check for updates.

Even the weather reflected the miserable news. Since Friday temperatures have soared above 35C in Perth. But yesterday the skies were overcast and rain, which hasn't been seen in the city for almost 200 days, came down intermittently.

- NZ Herald

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