The Navy is sending a second P-8A Poseidon to Perth, Australia, to support the search efforts of the Malaysia Airlines jet that went missing nearly three weeks ago.
The aircraft was scheduled to leave Okinawa on Friday to join the multinational effort to find MH370 and its 239 passengers and crewmembers, according to Cmdr. William Marks, 7th Fleet spokesman.
Additionally, Marks said the P3 Orion operating out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, will be sent back to Okinawa to resume regular operations. The Orion was the first US asset to arrive for the search efforts.
“It’s critical to continue searching for debris so we can reverse-forecast the wind, current and sea state since March 8th to recreate the position where MH370 possibly went into the water. We’ve got to get this initial position right prior to deploying the Towed Pinger Locator since the MH370’s black box has a limited battery life and we can’t afford to lose time searching in the wrong area,” said Cmdr. Tom Moneymaker, 7th Fleet oceanographer, in a Navy release Thursday.
The order to send a second Poseidon highlights this critical need as more objects that may or may not be pieces of MH370 continue to appear on satellite imagery and the 30-day countdown for MH370’s black box battery winds down. On Tuesday, Malaysian officials narrowed down the debris search to an area the size of Texas and Oklahoma in the southern Indian Ocean.
“We’re not searching for a needle in a haystack — we’re still trying to define where the haystack is,” Australia’s deputy defense chief, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, told reporters at a military base in Perth, Australia, on Tuesday.
As it stands, the Navy’s Poseidon and the soon-to-depart Orion had flown 16 missions, flying more than 150 flight hours over 220,000 square nautical miles. Despite the presence of the all-weather patrol aircraft typically used for hunting submarines, Navy officials said bad weather including strong currents and icing halted the search Thursday. It was the second time in a week the search efforts were suspended because of weather.
In the hopes that the Poseidon will find a debris field, the Navy sent a black box locator and an unmanned submarine to the search area earlier this week. The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle arrived in Perth on Wednesday from New York and is currently onboard the Defence Maritime Services operated Seahorse Standard. The multi-purpose vessel, contracted to the Royal Australian Navy, is hauling the 16-foot, 1,650-pound, and its 10 civilian and military operators to one of the remotest parts of the world.
The TPL-25 Towed Pinger Locator System, or the black box locator, also arrived Wednesday and is on the Seahorse Standard. The system listens for the pings coming from a plane’s black box. After several passes, the operator can triangulate the coordinates of the pings’ origination. It proved successful in the 2009 search of an Air France jet that crashed in the south Atlantic Ocean.
The arrival of this new equipment does not mean there is any indication that debris or wreckage have been located, officials stressed.
“We don’t have a debris field that we can go look for specifically,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told journalists at the Pentagon. “We don’t have anything to indicate where the aircraft is or even that it is down at the bottom of the ocean.”
The Malaysian jet disappeared early March 8 with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The United States is among 26 countries aiding in the search.