Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Flight MH370: 'Difficult and demanding work'

Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) aircrew on the flight deck of the P-3K2 Orion conducts a visual search.
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) aircrew on the flight deck of the P-3K2 Orion conducts a visual search.

Objects spotted by a RNZAF crew may have nothing to do with the fate of missing flight MH370, but the head of NZ's Joint Forces says staff are getting good results from 'difficult and demanding' work.

Two ships have retrieved a number of objects in the search for the missing Malaysian airliner but none have been confirmed as related to flight MH370.

The debris was first sighted by a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion and four other search planes in a new search area off Australia's west coast.

The Orion spotted 11 objects about 1600km west of Perth on Friday and another three objects of interest yesterday.

However, a photographic analysis found none of the three new objects were related to the missing Boeing 777.

But Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, who heads New Zealand's Joint Forces, said both the crew and aircraft were performing "extremely well''.

"It's difficult and demanding work, scanning the ocean for small items, even flying low over the water at comparatively slow speeds. It requires total concentration. Our people are getting very good results for such a search.''

Air Vice-Marshal Short said the crew was very well trained, and the recently upgraded Orion was among the most sophisticated aircraft of its type in the world.

The RNZAF Orion has flown fore more than 127 hours in the search for flight MH370 in the past 21 days.

Air Vice-Marshal Short said the RNZAF Orion spent four hours searching its assigned area yesterday.

"The crew reported sighting 70 pieces of debris on this flight, but most are not of interest to this search. Until items are picked up by a ship and assessed by expert investigators, no conclusions as to their origin can be made.

"We also dropped two sonar buoys on this flight, which will both assist the recovery ships to find the debris, and narrow the overall search area, as real-time drift can be accurately measured.''

Tactical co-ordinator Stephen Graham sits aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion. Photo / AP / Jason Reed
Tactical co-ordinator Stephen Graham sits aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion. Photo / AP / Jason Reed

The Orion's replacement crew, from No 5 Squadron at Whenuapai, took over from the previous crew on Friday.

They will rest today before the next search, scheduled for 1pm NZT on Monday.

Air Vice-Marshal Short said the new crew had quickly adapted to the time zone and the search cycle.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said two ships had retrieved a number of objects from the ocean yesterday, but they were also unrelated to flight MH370.

The objects were recovered by the Chinese maritime patrol ship Haixun 1 and the Australian Navy ship HMAS Success.

Two other Chinese ships arrived in the search area yesterday, and a further five ships were expected to arrive today.

Air Vice-Marshal Short told Radio New Zealand this morning that the RNZAF Orion had spotted dozens of objects in its latest search.

Among them were three items of interest, but an analysis of photographs sent back to Perth found they were unrelated.

"These objects are quite varied from rectangular white objects to a green and white oval. A lot of it just seems to be ... flotsam, rubbish in the water.''

View: MH370: Objects spotted with Malaysian Airline colours

The RNZAF Orion returned to base about 3.30am today after 10 hours in the air.

It will resume searching tomorrow.

AMSA said eight aircraft searched 252,000 square kilometres yesterday, with a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 and a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion spotting objects in different parts of the search area.

The objects could not be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they were relocated and recovered by ships, AMSA said.

Weather in the search area was described as reasonable for searching, but visibility was reduced to about 4km with rain showers.

The new search zone is nearly 1130km northeast of sites searchers criss-crossed over the past week.

The redeployment came after analysts determined the Boeing 777 might have been travelling faster than earlier estimates and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner.

Search planes are being sent out from Perth in stages, so at least one will be over the area for most of the daylight hours.

AMSA said 10 planes would search an area about 1850km west of Perth today, depending on the weather.

Conditions in the search area were forecast to worsen today, with light showers and low cloud, though search operations were expected to go ahead.

View: MH370: Malaysians pay tribute to passengers of missing jet

Video

The search would continue to focus on an area of about 319,000 square kilometres, based on refined analysis by international air crash investigators.

The Australian Navy vessel ADV Ocean Shield was scheduled to depart from Perth later today after being fitted with a black box detector and an autonomous underwater vehicle.

The Anzac class frigate HMAS Toowoomba left Perth yesterday evening and was due to arrive in the search area in about three days.

All ships in the search area were being tasked to locate and identify the objects sighted by aircraft over the past two days

- APNZ

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