Flight MH370:Search suspended again

By Sophie Ryan, APNZ staff, Daily Telegraph

A crew member on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Photo / AP
A crew member on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Photo / AP

Bad weather has forced searchers for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to suspend operations for the day, for the second time this week.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) foreshadowed earlier on Thursday that weather in the search zone, some 2500km southwest of Perth, was expected to deteriorate.

Watch: Inside a NZ search plane

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In a tweet sent just after 12.30pm WST, AMSA said the search for the wreckage of the Boeing 777 had been called off for the day.

"All planes are returning to Perth and ships are leaving the search area,'' AMSA said.

The first aircraft scheduled to leave the RAAF Base Pearce, 35km north of the West Australian capital, was a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76, followed by two RAAF AP-3C Orions.

Five vessels including the HMAS Success and four Chinese ships were also forced to suspend searching for flight MH370.

Two RAAF P3 Orions, a Japanese Gulfstream jet, a US Navy P8 Poseidon and a Japanese P3 Orion had been scheduled to fly sorties throughout the day, along with five civil aircraft carrying 34 State Emergency Services volunteers as air observers.

The suspension of the search came after new satellite images obtained from France-based Airbus Defence and Space showed 122 pieces of debris potentially from the missing flight.

Previously revealed satellite images from China, Australia and France showed items floating in the southern Indian Ocean, where the plane is believed to have crashed, leaving no survivors.

So far, none of the objects have been recovered.

Flight MH370 vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said the search would continue until there was no hope of finding anything.

Number 5 Squadron's Siale Mann checks instruments on the RNZAF P-3K2 Orion. Photo / Greg Bowker
Number 5 Squadron's Siale Mann checks instruments on the RNZAF P-3K2 Orion. Photo / Greg Bowker

'We are very, very keen to help.'

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Orion aircraft being used to find debris of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is world-class, and the new crew on the mission are eager to start their work, according their commanding officer.

Wing Commander Rob Shearer, who leads the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Airborne Surveillance and Reconnaissance Force, Squadron Five, said the 12 crew leaving tomorrow were keen to join the search.

Wing Commander Shearer told a media briefing at Whenuapai Air Base today that the crew, who left at 2pm, will start their search missions tomorrow in the Orion P-3K2 equipped with world-class technology.

A radar, camera, and viewing decks on board the aircraft have been recently upgraded and are state of the art.

The crew bound for Perth are replacing a crew that have been working on the task in the southern Indian Ocean for almost three weeks.

They're keen to do their bit in the international effort to find out what happened in the mystery of the lost plane.

"This is a great opportunity to go out there and prove what we do,'' said Mr Shearer. "We are very, very keen to help.''

Watch: Possible debris field found

Squadron Leader Mike Whiteside said the demanding timetable and the manner of scanning was very fatiguing on the crew.

He described the strain on the crews' eyes as like looking down a straw at an area of sea the size of a rugby field flashing past every second. The crew scan an area of 3600 rugby fields before taking a rest.

Flight Sergeant Paul Chadwick is a sensor, radar and electro-optics camera operator on the mission. He said he was aware of the long days he could have ahead of him.

"Whenever you get the opportunity to rest, you make sure you do,'' he said.

If he were to be a part of the crew who found the first piece of debris from flight MH370 he'd be satisfied, he said.

"It would be a huge plus to at least bring some closure to the families,'' he said.

Flight Sergeant Chadwick said the isolation of the search area from any safe landing points made it different from any other operations he had been part of.

The crew don't know how long they will be away for. However, Flight Sergeant Chadwick said it was all part of the job.

"My partner hasn't said much about it really. Wives, partners, husbands ... They all get used to the fact that we go away.''

The search goes on for the missing Flight MH370, as satellite images reveal dozens of objects floating in the search area. Photo / AP
The search goes on for the missing Flight MH370, as satellite images reveal dozens of objects floating in the search area. Photo / AP

RNZAF Air Commodore Mike Yardley said the crew of the RNZAF Orion flew for 11 hours and searched for five yesterday.

"It was fantastic weather conditions out there, I was told, and we did spot something. However, it was beneath the surface and when the aircraft came back round they couldn't relocate that.

"There was a lot of marine life in the area and so we are not confident about this debris, or whatever it was, that we spotted."

Air Commodore Yardley said the object was not spotted close to the 122 objects seen in the French satellite images.

"We are still further west and southwest from that area, and so I'd imagine that today's searching is going to be more in that area."

Air Commodore Yardley said there was significant ocean drift in the area, and images released today were three days old - taken before a storm hit the area.

"That's the area of the world that we're searching in - the Roaring 40s; the weather just sweeps through there, fine for a couple of days and then certainly the bad weather comes back."

Air Commodore Yardley said New Zealand was committed to supporting the Australian search for MH370 for as long as it continued.


A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion returns to RAAF base Pearce from a search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Photo / AP

Black box may never give up the secrets

The crucial moments of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet may never be discovered because the black box that records details of the flight may have overwritten key data, experts have warned.

A United States black box detector being towed to the area is due to arrive on April 5, 28 days after the crash and just two days before the data recorder's pinger is due to run out of battery life.

David Barry, an aviation specialist at Cranfield University, said the pings may continue for an extra 10 days but the signal would weaken. He said the effort to find the box could take years.

"Given the remoteness of the site and the depth of the water and the weather down there, the black box will be almost impossible to find,'' he said. "It will then be a case of digging through the wreckage field, possibly for a couple of years.''

A further difficulty for the crash investigators is that the crucial moment for understanding the unusual flight revolves around the period during which its communications systems were disabled and it took a sharp turn westward before flying silently for about seven hours. This occurred during the first hour of the flight, but the black box records cockpit communication on a two-hour loop and deletes all but the final two hours.

Mr Barry said "the bit we are interested in - where they lost contact with air traffic control - would have been overridden unless power to the recorder was lost''.

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister, said that new satellite images had found objects ranging in size from three to 75 feet across an area of 154 square miles in the Indian Ocean. He described the sighting of an apparent debris field as "the most credible lead we have so far''.

The images, captured through clouds by Airbus Defence and Space in France four days ago, were about 1,589 miles south-west of Perth. The zone tallies with previous images captured by United States and Chinese satellites.

"We cannot tell whether the potential objects are from MH370,'' Mr Hishammuddin said. "Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation.''

Twelve aircraft flew over the search area yesterday but spotted only three objects, including two items believed to be rope and a blue piece of flotsam. No wreckage has been found, nor any confirmed sign of the missing aircraft, since it disappeared with 239 passengers and crew on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8.

Mr Hishammuddin said authorities have begun looking at the steps that would need to be taken after the crash site and wreckage were found. The priority was to locate the black box.

As the search continued, a multi-million-dollar lawsuit was initiated in the United States against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.

A firm representing families of the passengers filed a petition of discovery in Illinois, requiring the companies to produce evidence of possible flaws in the crashed Boeing 777.

"We believe that both defendants named are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370,'' said Monica Kelly, the lead lawyer.

- APNZ

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