Navy officials downplayed reports of significant radar hits on board the P-8A Poseidon searching for a missing Malaysian passenger jet and said comments from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott about possible debris being found in the southern Indian Ocean were just a coincidence.
Cmdr. William Marks, a spokesman for the Navy’s 7th Fleet, said the Poseidon has not had “any indication of debris from the MH370 wreckage.” Thursday’s reports, from an ABC News correspondent on board the submarine-hunting patrol aircraft, described “typical radar returns that the air crews sees on a routine basis.”
“We are working closely in support of the Australian led effort in this sector,” Marks said.
Navy officials said the Poseidon would fly approximately 1,400 nautical miles Friday from Perth, Australia, to search for possible debris as coordinated by the Australian-led efforts in one of the remotest parts of the world.
The Poseidon arrived in Perth late Tuesday night after the Malaysian government shifted west in the search that began almost two weeks ago in the South China Sea, then was expanded to a broad swath covering 2.24 million square nautical miles from the southern Indian Ocean north to Kazakhstan.
The Navy’s other asset in the multinational search is the P-3C Orion, a Cold War-era anti-submarine patrol aircraft using radar, infrared and night-vision cameras. It has focused south near the Cocos Islands but will undergo routine maintenance Friday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Marks recently 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 already on station in the search efforts. The two patrol aircraft can search as much as 15,000 square miles combined in nine hours.
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.
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.