Malaysia Airlines MH370: Search Task is "a Needle in a Haystack”, Australia Admits

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By Athena Yenko | March 19, 2014 4:05 PM EST

The search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 now became larger than the total land mass of Australia. Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced that the entire search area is now 2.24 million square nautical miles. That is 7.7 million square kilometres, and Australia's land mass is approximately 7.6 million square kilometres.

On Monday, Australia was tasked to lead the search across the southern vector towards Indian Ocean from an area of 3,000 kilometres south-west of Perth, covering 600,000 square kilometres of ocean. This area was calculated through plotting satellite data obtained from last known signals from MH370.

With this, John Young, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) emergency response general manager, said that a description for the search task handed to Australia is "a needle in a haystack."

The recent confirmed report on the missing MH370 was that it could have veered off in one of two different directions: north-west into Asia or south-west into the Indian Ocean. After veering off towards either of these routes, MH370's tracking system was deliberately turned off.

Even with the overwhelming task, Mr Young said that Australia will conduct assessment of the area every day.

"We will be moving the search area according to the movement of and weather influences every day. When the aircraft actually get out there and see the real conditions and get experience with the search we will modify our thinking, but at the moment it's a large area with aircraft that are towards the end of their operating limit. So they get a short period of time in the search area and that dictates it's going to take quite a long time."

Mr Young said that the priority of the search being conducted is being able to locate if anyone had survived.

"We are taking this search very seriously. I am describing it as a possibility. The aircraft could have gone north or south. Our purpose is firstly to find anyone alive if there is anyone to be found [and] secondly, to prove or discount the possibility that the aircraft came south - to do that would be a significant development in the search," Mr Young explained.

Three Australian P-3 Orions had already been provided by the Royal Australian Air Force. The fourth plane will be launched on Wednesday.

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