Australia to deploy flying air traffic controller

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 1, 2014 at 4:33 am •  Published: April 1, 2014
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On Tuesday, 11 planes and nine ships were focusing on less than half of the search zone, some 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of ocean west of Perth, with poor weather and low visibility forecast, according to the new Joint Agency Coordination Center, which will oversee communication with international agencies involved in the search. A map from the center showed that the search area was about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) west of Perth.

The arrival of the E-7A "will assist us with de-conflicting the airspace in the search area," Houston told reporters. He did not specify when the mid-air plane would be deployed. The plane can maintain surveillance over a surface area of 400,000 square kilometers (156,000 square miles) at any given time, according to the air force's website.

Rob Shearer, captain of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's P-3 Orion, on Monday warned his crew to stay alert for the growing number of planes and ships crisscrossing the area. Some of the search aircraft have been dropping as low as 200 feet (60 meters) above the water — and occasionally dipping even lower for brief periods.

"An important note to mention to all of you, there's a lot of surface craft out there now, so we need to know and have eyes on everything before we go below 1,000 (feet)" Shearer told his crew before they headed out to the search zone.

Although it has been slow, difficult and frustrating so far, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is nowhere near the point of being scaled back, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday. In fact, he said the intensity and magnitude of operations "is increasing, not decreasing."

"I'm certainly not putting a time limit on it," Abbott said from at RAAF Pearce, the Perth military base coordinating the operation. "We can keep searching for quite some time to come."

"We owe it to the families, we owe it to everyone that travels by air. We owe it to the anxious governments of the countries who had people on that aircraft. We owe it to the wider world which has been transfixed by this mystery for three weeks now," he said.

"If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it," Abbott said.

Items recovered so far were discovered to be flotsam unrelated to the Malaysian plane. Several orange-colored objects spotted by plane Sunday turned out to be fishing equipment.

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Associated Press writer McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia. Writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, and Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.