by Staff Writers
Perth, Australia (AFP) April 22, 2014
The aerial search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 was suspended Tuesday due to a tropical cyclone, but not before several aircraft had departed on the mission, Australian officials said.
Up to 10 military aircraft had been scheduled to fly over the Indian Ocean in hopes of spotting clues as to the fate of the Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8 carrying 239 people.
"Planned air search activities have been suspended for today due to poor weather conditions in the search area as a result of Tropical Cyclone Jack," Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre said, adding that 10 ships in the search zone would continue their work.
"It has been determined that the current weather conditions are resulting in heavy seas and poor visibility, and would make any air search activities ineffective and potentially hazardous."
JACC later advised that prior to the decision to suspend search activities, four military aircraft had left the Pearce air base north of Perth, bound for the 49,491 square kilometre (19,108 square mile) visual search zone in the remote Indian Ocean.
A fifth plane helping coordinate the search also left from the Learmonth base on Australia's western coast.
"These aircraft will continue with their missions, however, individual aircraft captains will assess the conditions once on station and use their discretion as to whether they continue their planned search activities or return to base."
Australia is leading the hunt for MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean after veering sharply from its route for no apparent reason.
No debris has yet been found from the plane and authorities say their best lead has been signals picked up by a black box locator earlier this month, which have since fallen silent.
Australia's Ocean Shield ship has deployed an underwater autonomous vehicle (UAV) to scour the seabed at a depth of some 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) in the vicinity of these signals, hoping to find wreckage of the missing plane.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott suggested last week that the submersible Bluefin-21 would only be deployed for about a week, and the sonar scanning device has already covered two-thirds of the search zone without result.
"Bluefin-21 AUV has completed the ninth mission. No contacts of interest have been found," JACC said late Tuesday.
"Bluefin-21 is currently undertaking mission ten in the underwater search area."
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said severe Tropical Cyclone Jack was about 700 kilometres west-southwest of the Cocos Islands and moving south-southeast early Tuesday.
While it posed no threat to the Cocos Islands or Western Australia, the likelihood of the system remaining a tropical cyclone in the region was high on Tuesday.
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