READ MORE: A WA man describes the mood which gripped Malaysia following the MH370's disappearance; WAtoday journalist Liam Ducey's report after being on board a RAAF Hercules search aircraft yesterday.
4:12pm: VIDEO: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has released a video wrap up of the day's search action.
You can watch what AMSA General Manager John Young had to say below.
3:30pm: We are going to now suspend live coverage as we await news from the search zone.
A quick wrap of what happened today.
The first plane left Perth at about 9.15am. Now four other planes have either reached the search area or are on their way there.
A Norwegian merchant ship has also been searching the area, 2500km southwest of Perth, since Thursday night, with another due to arrive tonight.
So far, nothing has been found.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended his decision to announce the potential breakthrough yesterday in parliament, saying Australia "owed it" to the families of those on the missing plane to give them information as soon as it comes to hand.
2:45pm: Brett Campany from Wild Blue Helicopters in Cowaramup took some photos and a video of a search plane flying overhead this afternoon en route to the possible site where debris potentially from missing flight MH370 was found.
This is what he said regarding the footage, which you can view below:
"Check out the contrails of the Rescue Aircraft on its way to the search area for the MH370 debris to the South West of Margaret River."
1:20pm: Ross Verne: The patch of ocean where search efforts are focused on finding pieces of debris potentially from missing flight MH370 is one of the most treacherous in the world, with survival in freezing waters near-impossible and recovery efforts likely to take months or years.
This is the view of University of Western Australia professor of coastal oceanography Charitha Pattiaratchi who said the conditions and the amount of time since the plane was lost meant any survivors from the crash would have since perished.
“With the amount of time that has passed it would be a recovery operation,” he said.
“You wouldn’t last an hour in the water because of the temperatures.”
Read the full story here.
1:09pm: Here's a video from RAAF Base Pearce north of Perth, where the planes are leaving from.
AKA "the waiting game".
12:54pm: It is about a 7 hour round trip from Perth to the search area by air (depending on weather conditions).
The aircraft have about 2 hours of search time when they get there.
That means that the first plane that set out this morning at 9.15 am (Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time) should now be on its way back.
The planes that left around 11.15am and 11.30am should have reached the search area by now.
The fourth plane, which left at about 12.45pm would almost be at the search area.
A fifth plane is due to leave Perth at 4pm.
According to AMSA, the planes can communicate back while they in the search area if they should find anything.
12:45pm: China is sending some warships!
AP reports that China is sending three ships to search for the possible pieces of the Malaysia Airlines plane, the government said today.
It has not been reported where the ships are coming from, or when they might arrive.
However, previous reports have said that ships have been searching near Sumatra.
12:37pm: AMSA's website has been straining under the increased interest now that it is spearheading the search effort for MH370.
AMSA spokeswoman Lisa Martin says the reason ASMA's website has often not been accessible is due to the fact it had been inundated with visitors, especially by people in the media.
"Normally there are only 30 people active on it at any one time. Now there are around 1000 at any one time," she said, adding that AMSA's Twitter following has increased by 10,000 followers overnight.
12:30pm: Malaysia Airlines plans to fly relatives of the passengers and crew to Perth if the objects are confirmed to be from MH370, the company's chief executive Ahmad Jauhar Yahya has said.
He said the company would help families if they wanted to be close as close as possible to the plane when it is found.
Malaysian officials were last night briefing families on the Australian search operation.
Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussien said he "feels" for what relatives and friends are going through.
"I would tell them my sympathy, my heart goes out to them all the time," he said.
Mr Hishammuddin said that for the first time in 12 days there is a "credible" lead in the search.
"As long as there is hope we will continue. To be fair to the families we will never, never give up," he said.
12:03pm: There have been some eyebrows raised about the fact that Tony Abbott made his announcement to parliament about the debris before any effort could be launched to find it.
But as we noted earlier, he made a passionate defence of the way he played things, when asked in a press conference in PNG.
He said that not only did Australia owe it to the families of those on board to "do everything we can to solve this."
It's been put yo me PM Abbott had to act quickly to prevent type of criticism Malaysia getting for not releasing information.— Malcolm Farr (@farrm51) March 21, 2014
11:40am: Fairfax reporter Liam Ducey flew with RAAF crew looking for MH370 debris in the Indian Ocean yesterday.
See the video update on his trip below.
11:25am: The latest update from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority says that four aircraft have now departed Perth for the search area in the southern Indian Ocean.
- A RAAF P3 Orion departed around 6.15am (WST) and is now in the search area.
- A second RAAF P3 Orion departed around 8.15am and an ultra long range Bombardier Global Express jet departed around 8.30am.
- A third RAAF P3 Orion departed for the search area around 19.45am.
The United States Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft is due to depart for the search area at approximately 1pm.
You can read the full update here.
11:09am: The Age's political editor Michael Gordon is travelling with the Prime Minister in PNG.
While Tony Abbott's press conference obviously dealt with Manus Island issues, the missing plane was also discussed.
Given there have been no sightings of any debris possibly linked to the missing plane, the PM gave a passionate defence of his decision to make a statement to parliament on Thursday on the discovery of the satellite images.
He said we all owed it to the loved ones of those missing to crack this "extraordinary riddle".
Mr Abbott described the search as a "gut wrenching business" and acknowledged that what was shown in the images could potentially be a discarded shipping container.
He also described the search area as the the most inaccessible spot you could imagine on the face of the planet.
10:48am: The Washington Post has more information about the satellite search.
Ben Grubb has reported today on the US satellite that captured the images of the debris 2,500km southwest of Perth.
The Washington Post also writes that:
To help find Flight MH370, the United Nations activated an international consortium of spage agencies and satellite companies to scan the oceans for clues.
"The Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response, known as UN-SPIDER, is a collection of space agencies and commercial satellite companies, including the one that spotted the objects off the coast of Australia.
Normally, UN-SPIDER is activated after floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters. This is the first time since UN-SPIDER was formed that its members have been mobilized to find a missing airplane, according to the UN-SPIDER Web site."
10:40am: Charli Newton: Searchers looking for potential debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 off the WA coast are likely to face poor weather conditions in the next few days, a spokesperson from the WA Bureau of Meteorology confirmed today.
“We don’t have weather observation station out there so it’s hard to say, but yesterday a cold front went through the area which means showers associated with that cold front have eased but we’re still seeing drizzle and the associated low cloud with that drizzle, we’re not expecting those conditions to change,” the spokesperson said.
“We are not expecting much change for the conditions tomorrow and another cold front is forecast to pass through the area Sunday.
Read more here.
10:32am: Tony Abbott is continuing his first trip to PNG as Prime Minister.
He has just done a press conference, where we learn that he has called his Chinese counterpart to give him an update on MH370.
PM Abbott has called Chinese Pres Xi Jinping to update him on the situation with #MH370. "If there us anything down there, we will find it"— Karen Middleton (@KarenMMiddleton) March 21, 2014
10:25am: You can watch a video of the Hoegh company press conference below.
10:24am: The head of shipping at Hoegh, Olav Sollie, said that those on board the ship would not necessarily be using fancy technology in their search efforts.
"The best way with this size of a vessel [which is 230m long] it sounds probably old-fashioned, but its a very good way of doing a search on sea, that is on deck with a binocular."
10:21am: The Norwegian cargo ship Hoegh St Petersburg was the first ship to reach the search area.
It searched through the night, even though the official search was called off.
The CEO of Hoegh Autoliners, Ingar Skiaker, has told reporters from Oslow that "we consider this an emergency situation and we will continue until further notice".
"If there any survivors spotted, we will have the means to take them on board."
9:27am: Investigators seeking the missing Malaysia Airlines plane face a "colossal task" that is "far, far harder" than the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic, the man who led the French inquiry has warned.
Alain Bouillard's comments came as experts described the deep waters of the Southern Ocean that may contain debris belonging to flight MH370 as "one of the most hostile environments in the world".
Mr Bouillard, 63, worked for France's air accident investigation bureau, BEA, a world authority on air crashes and also led the investigation into the Concorde disaster outside Paris in 2000. Three BEA members are helping the Malaysian authorities in their search.
"This disappearance is still a great mystery, and will lead to an inquiry and a search that is far, far harder than that we had looking for Air France 447," Mr Bouillard said.
8:49am: Here's some details on the satellite that captured the images that may be of debris related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
WorldView-2, owned by US satellite company DigitalGlobe, provides imagery at a resolution of approximately 50 cm. It takes a new image of any place on earth every 1.1 days (1 day, 2 hours and 24 minutes), writes deputy technology editor Ben Grubb.
DigitalGlobe confirmed on Friday that it was the one who provided the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) with the satellite images that were captured on March 16, showing the two objects in the Indian Ocean.
“We have been informed by an Australian government official that it was our imagery Prime Minister Abbott referred to in his recent comments,” the company said in a statement.
Read the full story here.
8:12am: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has just released its latest update, stating that two more aircraft were due to depart for the search area a short time ago, at 11am AEDT.
The civil Gulfstream jet and a second RAAF P3 Orion will take over the search from the RAAF P3 Orion that set out at 9.15am AEDT.
Due to the distance to and from the search area (about a four-hour flight each way), each aircraft will only have about two hours of search time.
AMSA says a total of five aircraft will be involved in today's search, with a third RAAF P3 Orion due to depart about 1pm AEDT.
A United States Navy P8 Poseidon will set off for the search area about 4pm AEDT.
One merchant vessel is currently in the search area, with a second due to arrive tonight.
7:28am: Weather conditions appear to be quite bad at Pearce RAAF base, near Perth, this morning. That's where the search planes are setting off from.
Had very strong rain and wind storm move through RAAF Base Pearce this morning. Here's what's left of our tent. pic.twitter.com/4UoMPs1vZs— Oliver Janney (@CNNewsCrew) March 20, 2014
7:22am: One of the world’s top air accident investigators says the missing Malaysia Airlines jet may never be found if it came down in the Indian Ocean, according to the Financial Times.
Rémi Jouty, head of the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, the French air accident investigation branch, said much more work was needed before any undersea search could start if debris did indeed turn out to be from the missing aircraft.
“The only thing I can say is it will be most difficult and the recovery [of the wreckage on the seabed] is not guaranteed,” Mr Jouty told the Financial Times.
7:09am: The first search plane took off from Pearce RAAF base in Western Australia at 6.15am Perth time on Friday, which is 9.15am eastern daylight time.
Four planes will be involved in today's search, and their departure times will be staggered throughout the day. The next plane is due to leave at about 8am Perth time, or 11am eastern daylight time.
It takes about four hours for the aircraft to reach the search zone.
7:01am: If the debris in the southern Indian Ocean is confirmed to be from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, it would eliminate some of the wilder theories about what happened to the plane, writes Anne Davies.
It would point instead towards the likelihood of an emergency on the flight, and an attempt by the crew to turn back and complications that caused them to fall into unconsciousness, leaving the plane on a ghost flight until it ran out of fuel.
6:51am: Fairfax Media journalist Liam Ducey was on board an RAAF Hercules aircraft as it scoured a stretch of ocean off Australia’s west coast. Here he writes of the ongoing search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
6:42am: A photographer due to take off on a search plane from Pearce RAAF base on Friday morning has reported a lot of lightning over the area.
"It's windy, it's wild, the media are having terrible trouble with keeping their kits up," said photographer Bohdan Warchomij.
Fairfax Media reporter Peter Hannam has spoken to Ben Domensino, a senior meteorologist with Weatherzone, who says weather conditions over the search area look likely to improve for a couple of days at least.
Domensino says a high pressure ridge will be passing to the south of the search area over the weekend. This will allow wind and seas to ease and allow some clearing, which would help the search effort.
Another trough may move back into the region early next week, around Tuesday or Wednesday. This should bring more cloud and rain and cause wind to increase
6:24am: Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday morning said that Australia was ‘‘throwing all the resources we can at it [the search operation]’’.
‘‘We will do everything we humanly can to try to get to the bottom of this,’’ he said.
‘‘We don’t know what that satellite saw until we can get a much better, much closer look at it but this is the first tangible breakthrough in what up until now has been an utterly baffling mystery.
‘‘We do have pretty strong satellite imagery and obviously this is a very serious lead in the way that nothing else so far really has been.’’
6:18am: The search for potential wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean is painstaking. But the wait for families of those on board Flight MH370 must be agonising.
Families huddled around television screens on Thursday as news broke that possible debris from the plane had been spotted.
"It gets your heart racing ... I will tell you that, but it could just be nothing. We don't know and neither do they,’’ said Sara Weeks, whose brother Paul Weeks was aboard the missing flight.
6:10am: Peter Hartcher reports that, when the Australian official took the podium to explain to reporters the discovery of satellite images that might show pieces of MH370, he carefully omitted to tell them the source.
The images were from a US satellite. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's John Young didn't mention this to the media. Nor was he asked. But he wouldn't have disclosed it in any case.
As ever, Australian officialdom is hyper protective of US intelligence and its sources - even more protective than the Americans themselves.
6:01am: Fairfax Media reporter Patrick Hatch reports that seven Victorian State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers have flown to Western Australia to help search for the missing flight.
SES spokeswoman Sally Lowenstein said the volunteers had been trained as air observers by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and flew out of Essendon Airport on a search-and-rescue plane about 5am on Friday.
“That plane is based in Victoria and that’s why they’ve taken a Victorian crew as well,” she said.
The volunteers will work from RAAF Base Pearce, north of Perth, until Wednesday.
5:52am: So remote is the search zone, in the Indian Ocean 2500 kilometres south-west of Perth, that it takes aircraft about four hours to reach the area.
When they arrive, they only have enough fuel to search for two hours, before heading back to base.
5:46am: The Age's Steve Lillebuen has contacted Norwegian cargo ship Höegh St Petersburg, which has been diverted to the search area.
But the skipper declined to answer any questions about the search or current weather conditions, referring inquiries to AMSA.
An AMSA spokeswoman had no further updates.
The Höegh St Petersburg, a car carrier, was en route from South Africa to Australia when it was diverted.
Other vessels heading to the search zone include the Australian navy ship HMAS Success, which is due to reach the area on Saturday.
5:41am: One of the planes scouring the southern Indian Ocean on Thursday afternoon did detect several objects on its radar - but it turned out to be a false alarm.
One was a freighter, and two others were pods of dolphins.
David Wright, from US news organisation ABC, was on board the P-8 Poseidon plane that was sent to the area where debris from the airplane was potentially identified.
Wright said searchers were posted at all of the plane's windows, and the plane worked back and forth through its search area in a ‘‘lawn mowing pattern’’.
Whatever may be shown in that satellite image still a mystery - unknown material that MAY have drifted or sunk. They'll keep searching!— David Wright (@WrightUps) March 20, 2014
5:28am: At 8am, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority released this update about today's operation:
"Today’s search will utilise four military aircraft, including two RAAF Orions, tasked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to search a 23,000 kilometre area, about 2500 kilometres south-west of Perth.
"A merchant ship remains in the search area. Another merchant ship is en route to the area and is expected to arrive tonight.
"A total of six merchant ships have assisted in the search since a shipping broadcast was issued by AMSA on Monday night."