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Flight MH370: RNZAF Orion switches to southern Indian Ocean search zone

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion will relocate to Australia to continue searching for the missing Malaysian MH370 flight.
 
“New Zealand is committed to playing our part in the international search effort for the missing MH370 flight. Our thoughts remain with the families who are waiting for news on their loved ones,” Dr Coleman says.
 
“At the request of Malaysia, New Zealand’s RNZAF P3 Orion will today relocate to the Royal Australian Air Force base Pearce, north of Perth, to join Australian, US and Chinese aircraft in the search effort of the southern corridor area.
 
“The Air Force’s upgraded P-3K2 Orion is an ideal option for search missions like this. It has state of the art sensors, can fly at low levels and remain airborne more than 12 hours.”

Earlier report: The fate of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has become a formidable riddle, raising questions about possible hijacking, the identities of passengers and crew members, aviation technology and searching an enormous area that includes both the Indian Ocean and rugged, remote terrain in Asia. In latest developments:

  • The search area is further widened
  • No signs in northern search corridor
  • Chronology muddles as officials change accounts
  • Co-pilot's last words analysed for possible motive

The search area for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been expanded on a daily basis since the Boeing 777-200ER went missing 11 days ago with 239 people aboard and could now cover as much as 30 million square miles of sea and land.

Satellite data suggests the plane could be anywhere in either of two vast corridors that arc through much of Asia: one stretching north from Laos to the Caspian Sea, the other south from Sumatra into the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.

However, it is also possible that the plane could have travelled beyond the "corridors" in any direction. It is estimated the plane could have flown on for up to eight hours after the final contact.

There are now 26 countries involved in the search for the missing plane, including China, India, and the US. Australia has accepted a request to take responsiblity for the search in the southern arc

The leader of one of the Malaysia search missions, Captain Fareq Hassan, says: "This is not just a needle in a haystack, it’s a haystack that gets bigger and shifts under us due to the (ocean’s) drift."

No signs in northern arc
Aviation officials in India, Pakistan, Central Asia and even the Taliban say they have not see or tracked the plane and its chances of penetrating inland undetected were slight.

An Indian aviation official says surveillance is so tight on its border that the air force scrambled a pair of Sukhoi fighters last month after an unidentified object showed up on the radar.

Pakistani officials also say they have detected nothing suspicious.

“We have checked the radar recording for the period but found no clue about the ill-fated flight,” the Civil Aviation Authority says in a statement.
Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, at the northern end of the search arc, say no unidentified planes had entered their air space on March 8.

Timeline of last contact changed
Malaysian officials revised the chronology of the plane’s last communications, further confusing the question of what happened just before and after the plane lost contact with ground control.

Acting Transport Minister and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein revised the time of loss of communications with MH370 from 1.30am to 1.19am, which would be two minutes before the last confirmed radar contact with the airliner that used a transponder to identify it to air traffic control system.

At 1.19am the last communication with MH370 was heard by Malaysia air traffic control that closed with the co-pilot (the airline believes) saying “all right good night.”

These words have suggested the pilots are at the centre of a hijacking or suicide pact.

“Whether the co-pilot’s voice was distressed in the final transmission ‘alright, goodnight’, it is part of the investigation," officials told a media briefing.

At 1.22am the last positive radar identification was made using the transponder which identifies jets to air traffic control systems. Following this MH370 did not make its expected contact with Vietnam’s air traffic control system.

The transponder must have been disabled shortly after 1.22am as no more transponder identified radar contacts were visible on either Malaysian or Vietnamese air traffic control screens.