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Department of Defence (Australia) and the search for MH370

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing on Saturday, 8 March 2014.

On Sunday, 9 March 2014 Australia provided two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C Orion aircraft to assist the Malaysian Government in its search effort. Both aircraft were operated from the Royal Malaysian Air Force Base Butterworth, near Penang, and were involved in the Western Region Search Area[1]. One RAAF AP-3C Orion commenced searching the Indian Ocean to the north and west of the Cocos Islands on 16 March 2014.[2] The search west of Malaysia continued until 15 March 2014.

On 17 March, the Australian Government assumed responsibility for search operations in Australia’s search and rescue region. The Department of Defence (Australia) supported the Australian Maritime Safety Authority as the lead search and rescue agency, in what became known as Operation Southern Indian Ocean.

Operation Southern Indian Ocean
Joint Task Force 658

With the support of RAAF AP-3C Orion long-range maritime patrol aircraft, a visual and radar search of an extensive area more than 2,000 kilometres south-west of Perth began on 18 March. Within 24 hours, the United States Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force joined the task. On 19 March, HMAS Success was deployed from Fleet Base West to the search area; in the following weeks it was joined by HMAS Perth and HMAS Toowoomba. RAAF Base Pearce and Perth International Airport became the hubs for air search efforts involving more than 21 military aircraft and civilian jets from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the United States, China, Japan and South Korea. Three hundred and forty-five air sorties were conducted during 42 days of searching.

Joint Task Force 658 was established on 26 March to assist with coordination of the international and Australian search efforts as part of Operation Southern Indian Ocean.

On 30 March, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the appointment of the former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, as the lead for coordinating the Australian Government’s response.

A number of acoustic detections were made by HMS Echo, the Chinese ship Haixun 01, Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield and RAAF Orion aircraft that needed to be analysed. After detailed analysis by the Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), all detections were eventually discounted. On 14 April, Ocean Shield, with an onboard team of civilian contractors supported and funded by the US Navy, deployed the Automated Underwater Vessel Bluefin 21 to conduct a side-scan sonar survey of the ocean floor. In conjunction with DSTO, the RAAF also trialled a modified Orion aircraft with an experimental acoustic processor and modified sonobuoys enabling the aircraft to detect flight data recorder signals underwater.

Source: Excerpt from a feature article Defence involved in search for MH370, Department of Defence Annual Report 2013-14.[3]

RAAF Base Pearce

RAAF Base Pearce is the main Air Force base in Western Australia and is located in Bullsbrook, 35 kilometres north of Perth.[4]

Aircraft involved in the search for MH370 operated from RAAF Base Pearce, and Perth International Airport, from Tuesday, 18 March 2014 to Monday, 28 April 2014.

Defence Organisations involved in the search for MH370

  1. The Operational Search for MH370, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 3 October 2017 Table 7
  2. Australian support to Malaysian search effort – update, Department of Defence, 16 March 2014
  3. Defence involved in search for MH370, Feature Article, Department of Defence Annual Report 2013-14,
  4. The website for RAAF Base Pearce is