NZ Orion starts search for plane

A New Zealand air force Orion will continue to help search for the missing jetliner off the coast of Malaysia today.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 people including two New Zealanders, took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on Saturday, bound for Beijing. Authorities initially said its last contact with ground controllers was less than an hour into the flight.

A massive search and rescue operation has been launched to try and find the aircraft.

New Zealand's P-3K2 Orion and crew arrived in Malaysia yesterday from Darwin, a Defence Force spokeswoman said.

As the crew travelled there they conducted a search east of Malaysia.

Since that time the search area had changed dramatically, with an area in the Strait of Malacca - to the west of Malaysia - now the focus of attention.

The New Zealand crew would conduct another search today, in an area designated by the Malaysian operations team, the spokeswoman said.

It was not yet known if this would be in the Strait of Malacca.

The search would involve eyes on the water using sophisticated optical equipment on board the aircraft, the spokeswoman said.

The Orion had the ability to search for submarines and surface vessels by using systems to search for sound sources. However, that capability was not as effective for searching for objects on the sea floor, the spokeswoman said.

The plane also had the ability to fly very low and search large areas for more than 10 hours, depending on how far it was from an airfield.

It was anticipated the crew would be in Malaysia for about a week, the spokeswoman said.