|Chinese Air Force IL-76 transport plane takes off from the Royal Malaysia Airforce Base in Subang, Malaysia, March 22, 2014. Three Chinese Air Force planes arrived Malaysia on Friday to help with the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Two IL-76 transport planes among them were sent to Australia for search on Saturday. (Xinhua/Wang Shen)|
BEIJING, March 22 -- Two Chinese Air Force aircraft departed a Malaysia military base Saturday morning, heading for Australia to join the continued multinational search for the missing Malaysian flight MH370.
The two Ilyushin IL-76 cargo planes, together with a Shaanxi Y-8, arrived in Malaysia Friday morning to assist in the search effort in the so-called southern corridor, Liu Dianjun, commander in charge of the rescue teams by China's airforces, said Friday.
The two Ilyushin IL-76s took off Saturday morning soon after being briefed by the Malaysian sides on the weather conditions and refueled, and the Shaanxi Y-8 will also be dispatched Saturday.
China has sent five ships to participate in the search. Among them is the helicopter-carrying icebreaker Yuelong (Snow Dragon), which left the Australian port of Fremantle for the south Indian Ocean to search possible debris of the missing jet, according to Huang Qinguo, consul-general of the Chinese embassy in Australia.
"We will stay in close contact with the Australian side and monitor the ongoing situation," he told Xinhua Friday.
A special emergency unit has also been sent by the Chinese embassy to the western city of Perth, which will cooperate with the Australian side to search the missing Malaysian flight MH370.
Chen Wenrong, military attache of the Chinese embassy who led the unit, told Xinhua that the Chinese military has worked very quickly to respond to the new situation.
Chinese naval vessels participating in the search have changed mission near Indonesia and turned to the south Indian Ocean, said Chen.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said Saturday that so far no sightings have been reported, and that the current search area was identified based on satellite images provided by the Australia Geospatial-Intelligence Organization (AGO) and has been expanded to 36,000 square kilometers.
Analysis of the satellite images identified two objects possibly relating to the missing flight MH370. The images have been assessed to be credible but it is also possible that they do not relate to the missing plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, the AMSA said.
According to the latest press release, three Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, a New Zealand P3 Orion and two ultra long range commercial jets will search the 36,000-square-kilometer area, about 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth on Saturday.
The AMSA said the two commercial jets and a RAAF P3 Orion will be the first group of aircraft to depart from Perth around 9 a.m. Canberra time Saturday (2200 GMT Friday).
A total of 10 State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers from Western Australia have been tasked as air observers on the commercial jets for Saturday's search mission. Seven SES volunteers from Victoria served as air observers on Friday.
"The AMSA runs a training program across the country to train SES volunteers in air observation for searches," the press release said.
In addition, two merchant ships are now in the search area to help the hunt for the missing flight. And a total of six merchant ships have assisted the search since a shipping broadcast was issued by the AMSA on Monday.
The Royal Australian Navy supply ship HMAS Success is also en route to the search area and will arrive there late Saturday afternoon.
The Pentagon said Friday that it estimates that funding set aside for assistance to the Malaysian government in the search for missing Malaysia Flight 370 could last till April.
Pentagon Spokesman Steve Warren provided the department's costs in response to a query from reporters earlier this week.
"As of now, we've set aside 4 million (U.S.) dollars to aid in the search," he said. "Based on our current expenditures, we expect these funds will last until sometime in the beginning of April."
The total cost for supporting the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is now about 2.5 million dollars, Warren said. This includes operating costs of the ships and aircraft currently supporting the search, he added.
Swire Seabed, a Bergen-based Norwegian company involved in the search of a missing Air France jetliner years back, said it is ready to join a similar hunt aimed at locating the missing Malaysia flight.
"We are ready to join the search if we are asked about it," said Frode Gaupaas, chief operating officer of Swire Seabed told the Aftenposten, a Norwegian-language newspaper.
The company owns one of the few mini-submarines that can dive 6,000 meters deep in the sea.
The vessel "Seabed Worker", which was used in the search for an Air France plane in the Atlantic, will be shipped to Australia when requested, said Gaupaas.