The international hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has expanded to a six-nation effort, but may again be suspended as poor weather hits the search area.
The search resumed on Wednesday after being suspended for 24 hours due to dangerous weather, with a Korean P3 Orion aircraft becoming involved late in the day.
So far, no debris has been recovered and there were no reports of new sightings as dusk fell.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast gale force winds and thunderstorms in the zone, more than 2000km southwest of Perth, on Thursday.
As the scramble begins to send a device from the US Navy and a robotic underwater vehicle to the remote site, it’s a race against time to detect and recover the black box, given there are only some 12 days of life left on the beacon battery that would pinpoint its location.
It may have already sunk to the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean.
Another black box detector will be fitted to the Australian ship, Ocean Shield, which is en route from Sydney to Fremantle.
It is expected to arrive in WA on Friday and reach the search area on April 5.
University of Sydney associate professor Peter Gibbens said the odds were “stacked against” marine recovery teams trying to retrieve the black box.
Australia’s chief of navy Ray Griggs said planning was now centred around Ocean Shield.
He said he also understood family members of the 239 passengers would want to come to Perth, the closest city to the remote stretch of ocean that is assumed to be their loved ones’ final resting place.
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said he expected several hundred family members, mainly Chinese, would arrive in the coming week.
“The West Australian people will do all they can to make sure they are as comfortable, as welcome as possible in what is a very sad event,” he told Fairfax radio.
“We’ll host them, look after them.”
Mr Barnett also said the state government would help arrange a memorial service if the relatives wished.
In Malaysia, candlelight vigils and memorial services have been held as the victims’ loved ones struggle to accept the near certainty of there being no survivors.
Grieving family members attended parliament in Canberra on Wednesday as Prime Minister Tony Abbott moved a condolence motion.
“We mourn all those 239 passengers and crew. We especially mourn the six Australian citizens and one Australian resident who must be presumed dead and we grieve with their families and loved ones,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the disappearance of flight MH370 was a reminder that nothing could ever be taken for granted.
“I cannot imagine at the moment the grief which families are feeling.”
Queensland couples Ian and Catherine Lawton and Rodney and Mary Burrows are among those missing, as are Sydney couple Yuan Li and Naijun Gu and New Zealander Paul Weeks, an Australian resident whose wife and two young children live near Pearce air base, north of Perth, where search planes are flying from. – AAP
IMAGE: A wreath in memory of the victims of missing Malaysia Airways Flight MH370 outside RAAF Pearce in Perth, Western Australia which has become the centre for search activities, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.The search is being conducted in an area 2,500km off the South West coast of Perth after the Malaysian Airways aircraft went missing on March 8, 2014 whilst on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)