Malaysia jet search baffles even US super plane

2014-04-01 11:49
(Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP)

(Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Aboard US Navy P-8 Poseidon, Indian Ocean - Of all the 20 aircraft and ships out scouring the vast Indian Ocean for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the US Navy's P-8 Poseidon seems perhaps the most likely to help unlock modern aviation's most confounding mystery.

Five workstations lining the fuselage display high-definition video from the top-secret sensors that make this one of the most sophisticated surveillance planes in the world.

But the latest mission in the three-week hunt - five luckless hours skimming as low as 90m above the wave tops - only served to underscore the enormity of the challenge facing the international search team.

"This is my first time in the Indian Ocean and it is unquestionably the most untouched piece of water I have ever seen," US Navy Lieutenant Commander David Mims, the plane's pilot, told Reuters during a search flight this week.

"It's rare to come out and not see any land mass, not see any shipping traffic. There's nothing," he said. "It's weird."

The United States, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan are all scouring an area some 2 000km west of the Australian city of Perth, where investigators believe the Boeing 777 carrying 239 people came down.

Remarkably optimistic

So far, the search has turned up only fishing rubbish and other flotsam. It has been halted several times by bad weather in the search area.

Two Poseidons are engaged in the search. Costing around $175m, the aircraft is armed with cameras, infra-red and radar sensors that are fine-tuned to detect enemy submarines hiding under the ocean surface.

But despite its high-tech equipment, much of the searching is visual - crew members peering out a window.

"I'm a pretty optimistic guy by nature," said Petty Officer Michael Herman, perched in front of a porthole staring out into the foggy sea. "But yeah, this is tough."

The Poseidons operate alongside a pair of Chinese Il-76 military transport planes at Perth International Airport. They are kept under tight security, including a round-the-clock armed rapid response team.

The plane is so top-secret that a Reuters journalist given a rare berth was stripped of all electronic devices and barred from taking pictures.

The technology is impressive. Sitting at a pair of monitors stacked one atop the other, Petty Officer Julio Cerpa operates a panoramic camera that quickly zooms in on distant patches of ocean with great clarity.

An infrared version of the same camera feed cuts through the haze of fog surrounding the plane, offering a polarised and somewhat nightmarish view of the search area.

About two hours into the search zone, the monotony of peering out a window or at a computer screen, is starting to wear on the crew.

Petty Officer Sam Judd begins a slow climb up his seat back that will eventually see him perched atop it. Cerpa's hands turn his workstation into the world's most expensive drum kit.

And then the plane begins to ascend back to 9 000m having found nothing. The total trip, including flying time to reach the search zone, is around 10 hours.

To an outsider, the experience can seem frustrating, but the crew maintains a remarkably optimistic outlook. Even a trip that finds nothing rules out a part of the search zone, and is thus an important part of finding the wreckage, says Mims, the pilot.

"Being this far into the search process and having this much ocean to cover definitely makes it a challenging evolution," he says. "But if it's in our area, I think the probability of finding it is high."

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.