Search for missing Malaysian Airlines MH370

FOLLOWING THE disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 9M-MRO ON March 9, 2014, nine nations are now continuing to search for the missing aircraft.  While cruising at 35,000ft, Flight No MH370’ from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia bound for Beijing, China mysteriously disappeared with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board.

Some 30 military aircraft and 40 ships are continuing the search and rescue’ mission three days into the disappearance of the aircraft, which simply dropped off the radar over the South China Sea. 

Australia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, the USA, Vietnam and other countries are all assisting in the search.  US assistance has include a US Navy MH-60R Seahawk from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 78 (HSM-78) Blue Hawks’ Detachment 2 operating off the guided missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) in the Gulf of Thailand.  The MH-60R has been undertaking continuous search and rescue (SAR) operations, returning to the ship only to refuel and undertake crew changes.

Also from the US Navy, a P-3C Orion from Patrol Squadron 46 (VP-46) Gray Knights’ left Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, where it is currently on detachment, join in the search on March 10.

The Australian Defence Force has sent two Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orions to Malaysia to assist in the SAR efforts.  One departed from RAAF Base Darwin on March 9 for RAAF Butterworth, Malaysia, where it will be based to conduct search activities.  The second was due to leave on March 10.

A Dornier 228 and Super Lynx helicopter from the Royal Thai Navy are also assisting in the search operations, whilst two C-130 Hercules and an S-70B Seahawk helicopter from the Republic of Singapore Air Force are also in the area. The two S-70Bs are operating from the Formidable Class frigate RSS Steadfast.  Fokker F27s and a BN-2A Islander of the Philippine Air Force were providing a surveillance service, probably with Mk1 Eyeball given that neither aircraft are thought to have any reconnaissance equipment on board.

Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency is providing a Bombardier 415 amphibian and an AgustaWestland AW139.  Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) aircraft involved in the search include a C-130 Hercules, flying from the RMAF base at Gong Kedak.  The Indonesian Navy, in addition to five ships, is also providing a helicopter to assist.

One of the Vietnamese Navy’s newly delivered amphibious Viking Air Twin Otter Srs 400s is also has been seen on TV assisting in the search.  As darkness fell tonight, there was still little clue as to what had happened to the Boeing 777 and its passengers. 

Police confirmed that one of the passengers on board MH370 was a 19 year old Iranian travelling on a stolen passport, as investigations continued.  Three days on there is still no sign of the Boeing 777, regarded as one of the safest airliners in the world.  The pilot has some 18,000 flying hours and has been with Malaysian Airlines since the early-80s. 

Meanwhile Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang has urged the Malaysian authorities to increase its search efforts, “We have a responsibility to demand and urge the Malaysians to step up search efforts, start an investigation as soon as possible and provide relevant information to China correctly and in a timely manner.”

By March 12, Day 5 of the search for MH370, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein announces the search area is now covering more than 27,000 square nautical miles – 12,000 in the Straits of Malacca and 14,000 in the South China Sea.  While there are 42 ships and 39 aircraft from 12 countries deployed in the search.  

The RMAF Chief General Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Rodzali bin Daud tells a news conference “there was an unidentified plot on primary radar at FL295, 200 nm NW of Penang, at 0215 but we are not saying its MH370.”

The Royal Malaysian Air Force has four Beech 200 Super King Airs, fulfilling a maritime surveillance role, while the Malaysian Police took delivery of two Beech 350 Super King Airs in late 2013.  The latter are equipped with state-of-the-art Telephonics RDR1700B maritime surveillance radars,.  So the technology is available to the Malaysians to ramp up surveillance of the area.  This search effort comes barely a year after the Sabah uprising, in February 2013 when Malaysian authorities were criticized for its lack of proper airborne surveillance. 

Alan Warnes