April 1, 2014 - 10:20 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Australia will deploy a modified Boeing 737 to act as a flying air traffic controller over the Indian Ocean to prevent a mid-air collision among the aircraft searching for the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that went missing over three weeks ago, an official said Tuesday, April 1, according to the Associated Press.
The E-7A Wedgetail equipped with advanced radar will be deployed "in the near future" to monitor the crowded skies over the remote search zone, former Australian defense chief Angus Houston, who heads the joint agency coordinating the multinational search effort.
The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people on board bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
The search zone area has evolved as experts analyzed Flight 370's limited radar and satellite data, moving from the seas off Vietnam to the waters west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia. The current search zone is a remote 254,000 square kilometer (98,000 square mile) that is a roughly 2 1/2 hour flight from Perth.
On Tuesday, 11 planes and nine ships were focusing on less than half of the search zone, some 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of ocean west of Perth, with poor weather and low visibility forecast, according to the new Joint Agency Coordination Center, which will oversee communication with international agencies involved in the search. A map from the center showed that the search area was about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) west of Perth.
The arrival of the E-7A "will assist us with de-conflicting the airspace in the search area," Houston told reporters. He did not specify when the plane would be deployed.
Rob Shearer, captain of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's P-3 Orion, on Monday warned his crew to stay alert for the growing number of planes and ships crisscrossing the area. Some of the search aircraft have been dropping as low as 200 feet (60 meters) above the water — and occasionally dipping even lower for brief periods.