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  • 22 March 2014, 10:01

Missing Plane: Tropical Cyclone Threatens Search

The hunt for objects that could be from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has entered a third day in the southern Indian Ocean.

The search involved six aircraft and covered 13,900 square miles (36,000 square kilometres) of ocean south west of Perth in western Australia.

But bad weather could affect the operation after a cyclone warning was declared for Tropical Cyclone Gillian, which is forecast to move into the southern search corridor in the Indian Ocean.

During a news conference on Saturday, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: "A cyclone warning has been declared for Tropical Cyclone Gillian, which is located in the southern corridor. Very strong winds and rough seas are expected there today.

"In the area where possible objects were identified by Australian authorities, there are strong currents and rough seas. Generally, conditions in the southern corridor are very challenging."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: "It's about the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on the face of the Earth, but if there is anything down there, we will find it.

"We owe it to the families and the friends and the loved ones of the almost 240 people on Flight MH370 to do everything we can to try to resolve what is as yet an extraordinary riddle."

It comes after angry scenes at a meeting in Beijing when Malaysian officials attempted to leave without answering questions on the search operation from relatives of the missing passengers.

One shouted: "You can't go. You can't leave here. We are here waiting for you 14 days. We want to know what happened, what the reality is."

Another said: "We don't even know if our family members are alive or dead. We should never let them treat us like this!"

On Saturday, India said it had found no evidence the missing jet flew through its airspace after checking its radar records.

The plane disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing two weeks ago with 239 people on board, the majority of them from China.

Authorities face a race against time to locate the plane's black box voice and data recorder, which only transmits an electronic signal for 30 days before running out of battery.

After that it will be much harder to locate the piece of equipment that is likely to hold the key to solving the mystery of what happened to the plane.

Three Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion aircraft, a New Zealand P3 RAAF Orion aircraft and two ultra long-range commercial jets with 10 volunteer observers on board make up the latest search team scouring an area 1,200 miles (2,000km) from the Australian mainland.

The jets and the P3 Orion left Perth at 9am local time (10pm UK time) and took four hours to reach the search area.

The vast distance only allows the Orions two hours of search time before they must head back to Perth. The jets will be able to stay for five hours.

Two merchant ships are currently in the area, and are due to be joined by the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success later on Saturday afternoon.

Two Chinese aircraft are expected to arrive in Perth today, followed by two Japanese planes on Sunday. A flotilla of Chinese ships is making its way to the southern Indian Ocean, although it is still several days away.

Potential pieces of debris from the Boeing 777 were spotted by satellite last Sunday, but were only revealed on Thursday after analysis.

One object is thought to be 24 metres (72 feet) in length and the other about five metres.

The sightings have been deemed the most credible lead in the search to date, but some experts have warned the larger of the two objects could be a shipping container.

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss has also admitted the objects could have sunk by now.

Poor weather hampered the first day of the search on Thursday, but conditions are expected to be good today.

The planes are expected to fly low under cloud cover rather than rely on radar, a repeat of the procedure followed on Friday.

The US is considering a request from Malaysia for underwater surveillance equipment to help in the search.

The Pentagon says it has spent $2.5m (1.5m) providing ships and aircraft for the hunt, and has budgeted for a further $1.5m (900,000).

Despite the focus of the search shifting south, authorities are renewing their search of the Andaman Sea between India and Thailand.

Malaysia's Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the country welcomed "all assistance to continue to follow all credible leads" in what was a "long haul" operation.

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