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Satellites to binoculars used in Flight 370 search

From satellites to binoculars, the hardware being used in the search for the missing plane far off western Australia ranges from the sophisticated to the simple. Some of the equipment being used to look for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370:


The plane most utilized so far has been the Lockheed P-3 Orion, a four-engine turboprop favored by the Australian and New Zealand defense forces. Because the search area in the southern Indian Ocean is so remote - some 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth - it's an eight-hour round trip, leaving the planes just two or three hours to search.

One advantage of this plane is that it can fly at low altitudes for long periods. Mike Yardley, an air commodore with New Zealand's air force, said that his team's Orion flew at just 200 feet (60 meters) above the water Thursday to stay below thick clouds and fog - which requires intense concentration by the two pilots.

The Orion has a crew of 13, some of whom are stationed on an observation deck to search. Yardley said they use their eyesight, as well as a state-of-the-art radar system and three cameras - one infrared, one long-range, and one high resolution. The combination of systems helps them detect almost anything that's on the surface, he said. The crew also films everything so they can review what they've seen after they return to base.

The Orion has sonar to search below sea level, although it's not being used in this search, Yardley said.

Other planes involved Friday include a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon, which has been designed for anti-submarine warfare, and a civilian Bombardier Global Express, a long-range corporate jet with state emergency service observers on board. More planes are on the way.


The Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St. Petersburg arrived in the area late Thursday and used lights to search overnight.

The Filipino crew of 20 was planning to use binoculars and their eyesight to scour the water Friday. The ship had been carrying a load of cars from South Africa to Australia before being asked to join in the search.

Another commercial ship was due to arrive later Friday and three Chinese naval ships were heading to the area. China also planned to send an icebreaker that happened to be in Perth following a voyage to Antarctica.

Any plane debris that is found will be transported back by the Australian navy ship the HMAS Success, which is due to arrive at the search site Saturday.


The New Zealand Orion plane dropped two marker buoys Thursday, and searchers were planning to drop more buoys from a C-130 Hercules military transport plane.

The buoys resemble a poster tube, each about 1 meter (3.3 feet) long, with an antenna that transmits a GPS signal that can be tracked by searchers.

The idea is that the buoys drift in a manner similar to any debris, giving searchers clues as to where debris might move over time. The system isn't perfect - the wind can move the buoys at a different rate than larger objects - but is designed to factor in some of those variables.


Satellite images taken by a private company and released by the Australian government appeared to show two large objects, which prompted searchers to investigate further.

However, the images aren't definitive. They came from a DigitalGlobe satellite that can look left or right, but which gets lower quality images the father to the side it looks.

The satellites aren't like the all-powerful ones in the movies that can, say, read a license plate from space. The images appear to be little more than smudges to the untrained eye, and need experts to interpret them. One thing experts look for are reflections, which can help indicate whether a smudge is an object or just water movement.

Australian authorities have redirected other commercial satellites to the area to take higher resolution images, which may provide more answers.


Associated Press writers Julia Gronnevet in Oslo, Norway, and Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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HI BEAUTIFUL March 21 2014 at 3:59 PM

I am wondering why they do not have Air Tankers to do mid-air refueling so the search planes can stay out to search longer hours. Does not make sense to fly hours out to the search area and have only a couple of hours to search. Anyone out there have an answer to this????

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3 replies
Avrefrig March 21 2014 at 2:15 PM

Almost every powerful country is looking for the missing plane, where are the Russians?

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3 replies
ROCKYBALBOA March 21 2014 at 2:13 PM

i'm a merchant marine too and it's not that easy to search in an open sea.

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2 replies
ycplum ROCKYBALBOA March 21 2014 at 2:56 PM

Not according to prime time TV shows. LOL

In another post about satellites and such, I said that he plane will not be confirmed until some poor sailor gets his hands cold and wet and pulls a piece of wreckage onto the deck to be examined.

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For sure I understand that too. Maybe they should send droans out there since they can stay in the air forever it seems and they can come back to ships in the area. That is what I would do.

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jpweg5 March 21 2014 at 2:12 PM

there is no such aircraft as the A-35, sorry Peter.

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WatergirlHawaii March 21 2014 at 5:42 PM

I just wato to say THANK YOU to all the people co-operating in the search, especially to all those man and women who do the very tedious job of keeping thier eyes focused on a sea (of relative nothingness, in attempts to find this plane. May God blesss you and all you efforts!

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1 reply
honeyrose3332 WatergirlHawaii March 21 2014 at 8:38 PM

Yes, all the men and women from these countries are to be appreciated for their efforts. .

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lwilson145 March 21 2014 at 2:12 PM

Needle in a Haystack

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Joe Baricev March 21 2014 at 5:56 PM

I flew on a Boeing 777 from Los Angeles to Aukland, New Zealand and back.....It is a wonderful plane and would do it again...the pilots wife sat next to me on the way over to New Zealand

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1 reply
billsilvereagle Joe Baricev March 21 2014 at 6:01 PM

Good point, the 777 does have trans-oceanic range, if they also had the appropriate amount of fuel. According to the released reports it had enough for the 6 1/2 hour flight to Beijing plus the mandatory 1 hour of diversion reserve fuel aboard, which cruising at Mach 0.84 (Best Economy Cruise) gives about 3,100 nautical miles of flying distance.

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2 replies
Joe Baricev billsilvereagle March 21 2014 at 6:19 PM

Thanks guy...I travel the world on vacations every year and have been on every plane Boeing builds, except the new 787 and planes built by Lockeed and MacDonald Douglas as well as the Air Bus....they are all good planes. I would never fly on any plane built in Russia....very bad maintenance

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WatergirlHawaii billsilvereagle March 21 2014 at 11:23 PM

However, FL370 was not flying at crusiing altitude (peak efficiency), which is what your calculations are based on, so you must subtract that coefficient accordingly. If, as suspected, FL370 flew the remaining distance (after the pre-programmed turn) at low, or extremely-low altitude (as was reported by several witnesses), it's range (mileage capability) would be very much diminished.

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barsvisit March 21 2014 at 6:05 PM

What happened to the ELT signal ? The Elt goes off the second the aircraft impacts water/ground,
it won't transmit under water, but it also does not sink right away. There sould be a signal recorded
somewere, be it seconds, minutes or even hours. No ELT on board ?

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1 reply
billsilvereagle barsvisit March 21 2014 at 6:18 PM

Good point on the ELT .... the SARSAT/COPAS satellite systems would have picked up a burst transmission!

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billsilvereagle March 21 2014 at 6:12 PM

Now, here's a thought ......... instead of using manned aircraft like the C-130, P-3 or P-8, why not use the under-development Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton?

The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) under development for the United States Navy as a surveillance aircraft. In tandem with its associated ground control station, it is considered an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). Developed under the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program, the system is intended to provide continuous maritime surveillance for the U.S. Navy, and to complement the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The MQ-4C System Development and Demonstration (SDD) aircraft was delivered in 2012 and the MQ-4C UAS was originally expected to be operational by late 2015 with a total of 68 aircraft to be procured. However, in April 2013, the Navy announced that production has shifted from FY14 to FY15 due to additional testing requirements and technical issues related to the aircraft's double-tail vertical stabilizer and rudder, and software integration for maritime sensors. According to the latest information available from the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the MQ-4C UAS is now planned for 2017.

Or use the RQ-4 Global Hawks based out of Andersen AFB, Guam.

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3 replies
billsilvereagle March 21 2014 at 5:41 PM


This depiction (the above intenet address) provides a view of the radar horizons of the area of the Gulf of Thailand and Bay of Bengal.

And just as a "qualifier" I do have 24 years of ATC and private pilot background, so I'm not talking out of my rectum.

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1 reply
kkusay2003 billsilvereagle March 21 2014 at 10:43 PM

Thank You that was amazing to look at and no your not talking out your rectum lol

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1 reply
WatergirlHawaii kkusay2003 March 21 2014 at 11:26 PM

Thanks for sharing this!!!

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