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Navy P-8A Poseidon arrives in Australia as jetliner search widens

Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Matthew Walton, assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16, sprays down a P-8A Poseidon with fresh water before its flight to assist in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in Kulala Lumpur, Malaysia March 17. VP-16 is deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft arrived in Perth, Australia, late Tuesday night as the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 shifted west in one of the largest international searches in aviation history, Navy officials announced.

The Poseidon had been operating out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but was moved to Perth after the Malaysian government shifted the search, which began almost two weeks ago in the South China Sea, to an area from the southern Indian Ocean to Kazakhstan expanding the search area to 2.24 million square nautical miles.

Cmdr. William Marks, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet, told The Associated Press that finding the plane was like trying to locate a few people somewhere between New York and California.

“The search has expanded to the southern portions of the Indian Ocean, and the P-8A has the range required to reach those waters,” said Lt. Clayton Hunt, the search-and-rescue detachment mission commander. “We will be most effective operating out of Perth.”

Touted as the world’s most advanced long-range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft, the Poseidon can search on and under water simultaneously.

Built from a Boeing 737 airframe, the Poseidon has a maximum speed about 565 mph, can fly up to 41,000 feet and can cover more than 1,200 nautical miles in a four-hour shift, according to Marks.

For the MH370 search, Navy officials said the Poseidon will fly at 5,000 feet between 280 and 300 mph for about eight or nine hours, dipping as low as 1,000 feet for visual inspections.

The Poseidon arrived in Kuala Lumpur last weekend to assist the Navy’s P-3C Orion — a Cold War-era anti-submarine patrol aircraft using radar, infrared and night-vision cameras — in the search efforts. Between the Poseidon and the Orion, still operating out of the Malaysian capital, the two patrol aircraft can search as much as 15,000 square miles in nine hours.

The patrol aircraft are the two remaining Navy assets involved in the multinational effort to find the missing Malaysian jet, which disappeared early March 8 with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The United States is just one of 26 countries aiding in the search.

The destroyer USS Kidd was pulled from the search effort Monday “for follow-on operational tasking as they were when the search operation started,” Navy officials announced, bringing with it two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters. Late last week, the Navy redirected its first ship on scene, USS Pinckney, to sail to Singapore for pre-scheduled maintenance but hasn’t ruled out its return to the search area.

kimber.james@stripes.com
Twitter: @james_kimber

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