MH370: Kiwi search crew relieved

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 15:46 27/03/2014
The MH370 story in pictures
Reuters Zoom
The saga begins on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 departs Kuala Lumpur at 12:41am, local time. On board are 227 passengers and 12 crew.
Perth
Reuters Zoom
The crew of one of two Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft used in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 walk away from their plane in Perth.

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The New Zealand Air Force Orion crew involved in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is being replaced.

A new crew are flying Perth to join the search tonight, relieving the original crew who have been searching for more than two weeks, first off the coast of Malaysia and more recently off Western Australia for signs of the wreckage.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is thought to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean on March 8 with the loss of all 239 people on board, including two New Zealanders, after flying thousands of kilometres off course.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said today that the original Orion crew had put in a massive effort.

"I would like to thank the crew of the RNZAF Orion who have worked tirelessly during the last 18 days, playing their part in the international search effort," Coleman said.

"They have done a thoroughly professional job.

"The crew has flown a total of 105 hours, completed 36 hours on search, and have covered a search area which is more than one and a half times the size of New Zealand."

Satellite images captured on Monday show more than 122 objects that could have come from the plane within a 400-square-kilometre search area.

"New Zealand remains committed to supporting Australia who are co-ordinating the search effort in the southern Indian Ocean," he said.

"The RNZAF replacement crew will be ready to take up the search from tomorrow, weather permitting."

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 bound for Beijing, and investigators believe someone on the flight may have shut off the plane's communications systems and changed course.

Partial military radar tracking showed the Boeing 777 turning west and crossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot.

The New Zealand Orion is working alongside a dozen aircraft from Australia, the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.

The search zone is about 2500km southwest of Perth, and in an area of the ocean known for its difficult flying conditions and harsh weather.

Australia, China and France have all released satellite images in the past week showing possible debris in the same general area as the latest sighting, but no confirmed wreckage has been located.

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