Air Force Orion to join plane search

The Defence Force is sending an Air Force Orion to help in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The Orion left Auckland last night and was refuelling in Darwin ahead of its scheduled arrival in Malaysia this afternoon.

Prime Minister John Key told 3News this morning the offer of aerial assistance in the search for the plane that disappeared between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing was accepted by the Malaysian Government.

"It'll be on the ground there this afternoon in Malaysia, it'll join the search with seven other countries.

"I think there's eight countries now giving aircraft capability to look for that plane and also the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib, is a good friend of New Zealand - I'll give him a ring a have a chat to him tonight."

Flight MH370, with 239 people onboard, disappeared on Saturday morning. Among the passengers were New Zealanders Ximin Wang, 50, from Auckland and 38-year-old Paul Weeks, from Christchurch.

So far all possible leads in the hunt for the aircraft have proved false.

The oil slicks found off the coast of Malaysia during the search were not caused by the missing jet, authorities have said.

Laboratory analysis on the oil, first spotted on Saturday night, found that it had nothing to do with the Malaysia Airlines jet.

Earlier the crew from a Vietnamese jet reported seeing a "possible life raft" floating in the sea around 250 miles off the country's southern coast, only for search and rescue helicopters to find it was no more than "a moss-covered cap of cable reel".

Speaking at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur the director-general of Malaysia's Civil Aviation body, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said officials were still struggling with an "unprecedented aviation mystery".

"Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft," he said. "As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft, we have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible."

The incident has highlighted passport security issues after it was discovered two men travelled on the flight on stolen passports.

Malaysia Airlines has asked airports around the world, including Auckland International Airport, to beef up security screening for passengers on its flights.

Auckland, the only New Zealand airport Malaysia Airlines flies to, and New Zealand's Aviation Security Service confirmed the measures, which include extra baggage screening, were put in place on Sunday morning.

Passengers who flew out of Auckland on a Malaysia Airlines flight on Sunday afternoon were subjected to the increased measures, an airport spokeswoman said.

"A request was made by Malaysia Airlines to put in extra security. It is only for Malaysia Airlines passengers and there have been no significant delays for check-in timing for Malaysia Airlines passengers," the spokeswoman said.

Aviation Security Service spokesman Mike Richards said the extra security for Malaysia Airlines passengers was the result of the disappearance of the flight.

"We would work with the operator to satisfy the requirements. We've already got world-class security screening at all of the international airports in New Zealand, and we're probably ahead of most countries but if an operator ask for support, we're happy to provide it," he said.

What authorities say is known as of today:

* The Boeing 777 carrying 239 people lost contact over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam; there was no sign of trouble before it disappeared early Saturday, and no distress signal was sent;

* At least 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries are searching a 50-nautical mile radius from the point the plane vanished, but the only finds have been false alarms - a yellow object spotted by a search plane turned out to be trash, and oil slicks were shown to not be from an aircraft; and

* Police and Interpol questioned the proprietors of a travel agency in Thailand that sold one-way tickets to two men who travelled on stolen passports.

What is not yet known:

* What happened to cause the plane to lose contact. Catastrophic failure of the engines or plane structure, extreme turbulence or pilot error or even suicide, are possible, though the use of the stolen passports has strengthened speculation of foul play:

* Without debris, there's no confirmation the plane crashed. But finding traces of an aircraft lost at sea can take days or longer, even with a sustained search effort;

* If the two men using stolen passports had anything to do with the plane's disappearance.


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