UK & World News
Malaysian Plane: Hope And Activity In Perth
Pearce Air Force base, just to the north of the western Australian city of Perth, has become the centre of activity and of hope in the search for the missing Malaysian airliner.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base, which is usually used only for flight training, is now hosting highly sophisticated P3 Orion surveillance planes and their crews.
Three P3 Orions have flown up from their base in South Australia to spearhead the new focus in the search for flight MH370.
A long-range Bombardier Global Express jet, usually used as an executive private plane, has also been brought in to assist the search.
A fifth plane, the US Navy's brand new P8 Poseidon, has joined the search from its base in Okinawa, Japan, and is flying its own sorties from Perth International Airport.
The first RAAF P3 Orion left Pearce at about 9.15am. The journey to the search area deep in the southern Indian Ocean is 1,500 miles. It is closer to Antarctica than it is to Australia.
The second P3 Orion departed two hours later at 11.15am. Fifteen minutes later, the Bombardier jet departed, and the third P3 followed at 12.45pm.
For the ground crew, whose usual daily task is coordinating the movements of small trainer aircraft, it is a busy time.
In the searing heat, we spot the first of the P3 planes on the horizon. It is making its final approach back into Pearce after 10 hours in the air. Eight of those hours were spent travelling and just two searching.
As the pilot walks towards us for a few words, it's clear he is tired but upbeat. For the whole flight crew, the work is long and tiring. As well as operating sophisticated search equipment on the planes, they are using their eyes, too.
Their radar picked up nothing on Thursday and so they have spent much of Friday flying low; at times just 50 metres above the water.
That sort of piloting is hard. It's also tough for the crews to keep their eyes focused on the water for so many hours. We discovered that much after seven hours on a search with the Royal Malaysian Air Force last week. Even small ripples in the water look like objects.
Add to that the fact that the search zone is in one of the most remote corners of the planet. It is an ocean where currents are strong, the waves are rough and the waters are among the deepest in the world.
There is a media circus here, too. Tents are lined up next to each other, the Australian networks, who made it here first, have the plumb spots. Next to them is the Sky News spot, the BBC and then the three main American networks.
CCTV, China's main TV network, also has a big presence here. Most of those on board the missing plane are Chinese.
The sorties cease as night falls. The difficult work resumes at first light.