PETALING JAYA: Cyclone Gillian may be wreaking havoc in the southern Indian Ocean but it won’t stall the intense search for Flight MH370.
United States Navy’s 7th Fleet spokesman Commander William J. Marks said the planes used for its operations were built to withstand all types of weather conditions.
The category one cyclone has already hit the Australian territory of Christmas Island, but has not yet hit the remote stretch of ocean about 1,600km south-west of Australia where ships and planes are searching for wreckage.
The Bureau of Meteorology has warned that the cyclone is intensifying and destructive wind gusts of up to 125kph are expected. Very strong winds and rough seas are expected there.
Speaking on behalf of the pilots of the P-8A Poseidon and P-3C Orion aircraft, Marks told The Star in an e-mail yesterday:
“Even when the weather is bad, we don’t give up the radar search and switch to visual. We simply adjust and search smarter.”
He said the P3 and P8 were all-weather aircraft with multiple sensors and the radar would be adjusted for sea clutter to optimise the search.
“The tactical coordinator can optimise his or her search tactics to exploit all sensors in an order of priority that matches the environment.
“If the weather is obscuring the visual search, the radar will become primary sensor, or vice versa depending on the environment,” he said.
Marks said the radar could also alert crew members if there was something abnormal on the surface of the ocean, like a ship, a life raft or even a small object.
“The electro-optical/infrared camera provides the visual picture, acting as the eyes of the crew, day or night.
“The combination of radar and EO/IR is a significant enhancement over a visual search, as it increases the area of coverage and the probability that even a small object on the water’s surface will be detected.
“Alert observers looking out the windows of the aircraft also have a role to play as the plane gets lower for a visual confirmation,” he said.
Each mission is airborne for between nine and 10 hours, including time spent transiting to and from the search area.
To reach the outer search areas, the P-8A has to transit up to 1,500 nautical miles, giving it only three hours to conduct a search before returning to base.
“In the course of one flight, the planes can cover anywhere from 5,000-18,000 square nautical miles, depending on how far they need to go to get to the search area and how much overlaps it includes,” he said.
During yesterday’s mission, the P-8 flew southwest from Perth towards the potential debris site announced by Australia – the same vicinity reported by China based on its satellite images.