Malaysian authorities have expanded their search westward toward India, saying the aircraft may have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground shortly after takeoff early Saturday from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing. A total flight time of five hours after departing Kuala Lumpur means the jet could have traveled an additional 2,530 miles. Here's a look at the search so far.
Who is looking?
The U.S. Navy is easily the biggest and best- equipped Navy in the Pacific and was quick to get involved. Two San Diego-based destroyers have been searching areas designated by the Malaysian government. The USS Kidd searched the southwest section of the Gulf of Thailand before heading to the Strait of Malacca as of Thursday, according to 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. William Marks. The USS Pickney searched the northeast area, between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, before heading to Singapore for maintenance.
The Kidd's two HM-60R Seahawk helicopters flew sorties from dawn to dusk in search of debris. They can search a 400- to 600-square-nautical mile area during a typical 3½-hour sortie, depending on sea and weather conditions and the size of the object they're trying to find. The copters' onboard sensors can detect small objects in the water, in addition to the crew using binoculars or the naked eye. The Seahawks also have forward-looking infrared cameras for night use. A Navy P-3C Orion aircraft has been searching over both the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Thailand, and it can search for extended periods and cover 1,000-1,500 square miles every hour. On-board sensors allow the crew to clearly detect small debris in the water.
Four Chinese naval vessels are joining the effort. The Jinggangshan is the largest in the Chinese navy and has a flight deck capable of launching several helicopters. An air force plane was dispatched to search for signals from the plane's flight data recorder. The People's Liberation Army Newspaper, run by the ruling party's military commission, said Beijing also sent four helicopters and four civilian search vessels. The Kunlunshan — another amphibious landing ship with two helicopters — arrived at the designated area in the Gulf of Thailand early Thursday morning.
THE PHILIPPINES, VIETNAM
Despite meager resources, the Philippine military immediately dispatched search and rescue vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea southwest of Manila within hours of the plane being reported missing Saturday. The Philippines' largest and newest naval vessel, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter, was deployed on Wednesday. In Hanoi, Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese People's Army, told the Associated Press that Vietnam has dispatched for the first time a helicopter to scour the jungles of U Minh in southern Vietnam after the massive sea search found no clues.
How big are the search areas?
The international search is methodically sweeping the ocean on both sides of Malaysia. The total area being covered is about 35,800 square miles — slightly smaller than Indiana. The search is moving into the Indian Ocean, one of the world's deepest. Its average depth is nearly 12,800 feet.
Associated Press, Washington Post