Transcript of Press Conference: RAAF Base, Pearce, Western Australia



22 March 2014

Missing plane MH360,
Australian search effort

Warren Truss: Well ladies and gentlemen I'm pleased to be here today with Group Captain Heath and Wing Commander Parsons; I've had the opportunity to meet many of the men and women who are involved in this search. I've thanked them and congratulated them on the work that they are doing. I've made it clear that the people of Australia are grateful for the effort that they are putting in, and that there is also shared appreciation with the peoples of Malaysia and China and other countries who have lost people as a result of this aircraft going missing.

This search is an intensive operation. There have been 15 sorties conducted from this base using mainly Australian Orion and New Zealand Orion aircraft but there's also a US P8 Poseidon and a number of civilian aircraft who are involved in the search. While these aircraft are equipped with very advanced technology, much of this search is actually visual using eyes of men and women to be able to look across the ocean and try to pick up any pieces of debris or parts that perhaps may be related to this aircraft's disappearance.

The Australian four Orion PC aircraft are joined of course also by New Zealand aircraft. Later today two Chinese aircraft will be arriving and we expect them to join the search tomorrow and then Japanese aircraft arriving also tomorrow with the expectation that they will join the search perhaps Monday or Tuesday. In addition there are a number of vessels that are now being dispatched from around the world to join in the sea search. The Australian vessel, The Success, expects to be in the search area later today and of course there is a significant number of vessels coming from China and other parts of the world to join in that search.

We very much appreciate the international effort that's associated with this task. It is important from the perspective of those who have families whose whereabouts is unknown as a result of the Malaysian airlines flight 370. It's important for them and indeed for the future of the aviation industry that we do whatever we can to firstly to confirm whether or not the sightings as a result of the satellite imagery are indeed connected in any way to the Malaysian airlines flight and then, if so, what can be recovered so that we can learn more about what has happened on this flight and learn any lessons that are necessary to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

Now we can't be sure at this stage whether the debris that's been sighted in the satellite imagery is related to the loss of the aircraft. It is the most promising lead that is available internationally but there are any number of other explanations about what might have been sighted as a result of this satellite imagery. So the work is going to continue. The crews are working on the basis of this search going on for quite some time. They're ready. They're well-trained for this kind of operation. Indeed the men and women involved in this search, they train all of their lives just for this kind of an operation; so they are working very diligently to endeavour to make sure every possible lead, every possible opportunity is refined and therefore followed through to whatever conclusion there may be.

Question: indistinct…a full scale search wasn't launched til Thursday, did you miss your chance to find them?

Warren Truss: Well, the fact that it's six days ago that this imagery was captured does mean that clearly what objects that were there are likely to have moved a significant distance as a result of currents and winds. It's also possible, of course, that they have just drifted to the bottom of the ocean bed and the ocean in this area is between three and five kilometres deep; so it's a very, very deep part of the ocean; very remote, and all that makes it particularly difficult.

In relation to the time that's been taken to commence the search. The imagery was created at that time but its significance was only identified after substantial additional refinement work had been done. And as soon as these items were thought to be of interest the search measures were introduced.

Question: indistinct…multiple questions.

Warren Truss: Excuse me look, I'm going to stay here and answer all your questions so let's do them one at a time.

Question: indistinct…about evidence.

Warren Truss: Well, there is a lot of ocean debris floating around the globe continuously, and containers do fall off ships, and so there are any number of potential explanations as to what these items actually are. Those who've done the technical analysis believe that they are of interest in relation to this disappearance. And even though this is not a definite lead it is probably more solid than any other lead around the world and that's why so much effort and interest is being put into this search.

Question: indistinct…about military Chinese aircraft.

Warren Truss: Well, we welcome these additional assets including the Chinese aircraft. They have a capability that will be important to the search. I'm told that they are a good platform for visual observations an , as I mentioned earlier, it is more likely that a pair of eyes are going to identify something floating in the ocean than much of the technical equipment that's on board the aircraft. So those two Chinese aircraft, along with the Japanese aircraft and other international resources that are being added to this effort will certainly improve our capacity to ensure that every lead is exhausted.

Question: indistinct…Mr Abbot told the Parliament on Thursday that the information was really credible but yesterday he told reporters in Papua New Guinea that it could just be containers, and that…indistinct…new satellite images…Does the latest statement of the Prime Minister have anything to do with the new images?

Warren Truss: The Prime Minister's statement in the Parliament was correct, that this was a discovery of interest, and also his commentary yesterday was also accurate, namely, there are plenty of other explanations for this satellite imagery. What we need to do is exhaust every possible option. This is a credible lead, and it's in Australia's search and rescue area so we take our responsibilities very seriously to check out this lead and to endeavour to find whether it has substance.

Question: How long will you continue searching this very remote area?

Warren Truss: It is a very remote area but we intend to continue to search until we are absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile, and that day is not in sight. We will continue the effort, we will continue to liaise with our international allies in this search, but at this stage we are planning for it to continue indefinitely, although I recognise that there'll be a time at some stage, if nothing is discovered, where a further appraisal will have to be made, but we are not even thinking about that at the present time.

Question: Can you confirm whether you've got any other unreleased satellite images which would suggest the same as the ones that have been released?

Warren Truss: Well, there's no information that would lead us to not want to continue this search. But on the other hand it's largely refinement of what information we have at the present time. That is helping us to narrow down the search area, and that along with the buoys that have been dropped in the area, that helps us also to understand the currents and the wind movements, so that we can refine the area as much as we can. Our, just the Australian operation, has covered some 500,000 square kilometres, half-a-million square kilometres, so we started with a very large search area and we're seeking to refine it.

Question: Have you had any updates from the planes that are out there today?

Warren Truss: Well, I should have perhaps reported earlier that there were no findings yesterday of note, and so far there have been no findings of note today.

Question: Indistinct…that you haven't released. It's been suggested that you've got more satellite images that would confirm the same possibility that you haven't yet released. Can you talk about that?

Warren Truss: Well, there's a lot of work being done internationally, in various countries, to try and refine the images that we have but also, of course, to endeavour to find whether the search area can be further limited by any new and up-to-date satellite imagery. Now that will be ongoing and if there is new imagery that's relevant and can be released to the media well that will be released as soon as we can. I think it's pretty evident that this search has been very much open to scrutiny. We've endeavoured to make sure that all the information available to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and to our defence forces is made available to the media. We are not seeking to withhold information. We know that the families, in particular, that are associated with this potential disaster, they're anxious for information and we're not going to withhold information that might provide them with some degree of comfort or assurance about the future.

Question: Were you perhaps jumping the gun releasing those pictures too early?

Warren Truss: Well, that's exactly the opposite, I guess, response, we've had from the earlier question. We are trying to keep the public informed. Those pictures were released because we want to be open and transparent about the work that we're doing and we want everyone to be confident that we are putting in the maximum possible effort to refine the search area and to rule out or rule in what prospect there might be that this satellite imaging is related to flight MH370.

Question: How regular is your contact with the Malaysian authorities on the information you are getting?

Warren Truss: Well there's really regular contact on an every-few-hours basis. We're certainly making sure that any information that is available, is available also to those who are at the centre of this search arrangement bearing in mind Malaysia's primary responsibility is that it is a Malaysian-flagged aircraft. We recognise all of that and that, while we have a responsibility to search this particular area, that other countries are as interested as we are in ensuring that everything that can be done, is done.

Question: indistinct…anything that you're saying to other governments privately that you are not saying publicly?

Warren Truss: Well, we have discussions with other governments but I don't think there's anything of substance that has been said between governments that you're not aware of.

Question: You say you're refining the search area but it's actually been expanded today to 36,000 square kilometres, so it's getting bigger, not smaller.

Warren Truss: Well, we're searching new areas as a result of the information about the drift that would have occurred overnight and since the buoys were put in place, and wind movements etc., so the search area's going to change as we end up with a larger number of resources available, instead of doing, you know, four sorties a day, we'll be able to do six or more, when the international aircraft are here. That means we can search a larger area and that's just demonstration that we're determined this will be a very thorough investigation.

Question: indistinct…very thorough and potentially ongoing indefinitely. Are you concerned about the cost?

Warren Truss: Well, it will cost money but that's our responsibility as global citizens. We've got to do our part. This potential disaster has come to our sector of the globe and we will undertake our responsibility to the people who are on board the aircraft and indeed the global community and to make sure this lead is investigated absolutely thoroughly.

Question: Are you confident that AMSA has the capability to co-ordinate a search of this scale and significance?

Warren Truss: Well AMSA is skilled in maritime rescues. That's what it's set up to do and to undertake search and rescue operations. Now, in this particular case the search site is so far from shore that AMSA doesn't have within its own inventory the kind of aircraft that could search in that area. That's why we've needed to involve the defence forces. They have much more sophisticated equipment at available at their disposal and longer-range aircraft.

Now, the vessels as well that are going to search in these areas are beyond what AMSA normally has on call. So they have certainly the capability, the skills and the experience in undertaking a search of this nature. But so do our defence personnel. Group Captain Health (?) and his team have been training and working for this kind of a search really all of their careers, and they have been involved in similar operations, in similar parts of the…in similar waters, over the years. So There's no doubt they have the skills and the capability to do it . And we now will have also access to AN international search effort with other aircraft joining the search area. And let me say that those aircraft that are coming in have similar technology to the Australian aircraft and therefore while every set of additional eyes adds to our capability, we have really at our disposal in this search the best technology the world has to offer.

Question: indistinct…now the only lead…

Warren Truss: Well, I'm not really in a position to comment on what other leads there might be. This has been the most promising lead for some time and we will continue to pursue it.

Question: indistinct…ships be able to refuel…indistinct…Chinese military…indistinct…

Warren Truss: Well that's an operational matter and I suspect it's outside…pause…you're area as well?

But let me assure you there will be a high level of co-operation with these international assets. We recognise their capability to add to the search effort and we'll be working constructively and co-operatively with them. The Success obviously has capabilities, the Australian vessel that will be in the area within a few hours, it has significant capabilities, but so do the fleet that is coming in from China and other countries, that will add to our capabilities and they will need to work together.

Question: indistinct…

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: indistinct…two Chinese aircraft appearing his afternoon…indistinct…76s that are flying in to operate from this base to hopefully commence missions tomorrow into the search area. Both those aircraft are large transport aircraft that have a very good visual search capability, and I'm sure the Chinese are very good at that. They will have a lot of windows…it's primarily a visual search so that's what we're looking for is human eyes actually spotting things in the water. You need to be low and you need to be close and you need to be there as long as you can. So therefore they will come in and do a great job I'm sure assisting us with clearing the area during that period. As far as the Chinese…the vessels that are moving in, we have had HMAS Success that is steaming out to the operating area right now, out to the search area, it'll be in the search area, and while I can't comment directly on whether it will refuel from the Chinese vessels, Success will be pretty much self-supporting for a long time—it is an oiler by its trade—and there may be some potential for that but I'm unsure.

Warren Truss: I understand that the Chinese fleet is accompanied by a refuelling vessel as well, so there'll be quite a lot of capability for these vessels to stay in the area for a long time.

One mention that I didn't make earlier is that the weather conditions have improved in the search area. Yesterday was quite a good day for visual observations and the report so far is that today also offers improved weather conditions.

Question: Can you give us an idea about…indistinct…each day?

Warren Truss: No I can't give you an idea about what it's costing. However, as I said earlier, this is a cost that we need to incur because we have a responsibility to do what we can to find this aircraft.

Question: Indistinct?

Warren Truss: Well, look , no we'll obviously take responsibility for our own efforts, other countries are making a contribution and we welcome that.

Question: Has Malaysia sent any assistance in the form of aircraft…indistinct…?

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: Not at this stage directly but we do have Malaysian military personnel here as liaison, and also we have very good contact back through our search and rescue organisations in the Australian Maritime er Search Authority (sic) er, search…

Warren Truss: And also from Malaysia's perspective, recognise they have other search areas where they are concentrating their efforts in their own waters and nearby and other countries are assisting us with the search in this particular area.

Question: Will the military operations be co-ordinated out of here, all the international military operations…indistinct…?

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: At this stage Pearce is a hub for the airborne assets, but realistically—and that's what I will command for a period—but really I am actually working for the rescue co-ordination centre within the Australian Maritime Search Authority (sic) which is a specialist—they are experts at in conducting these searches, refining search areas, and tasking us to optimise all the capabilities that are there so that we have the best chance of finding something and resolving the situation.

Question: indistinct.

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: It's a very difficult search, but at the end of the day if there is something out there, and we are on top of the area (indistinct word ) enough, if it's still there, there's a reasonable chance that we will find it.

Question: indistinct.

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: I think the debris…the Maritime Search Authority will be able to…indistinct…but I'm suspecting it will be relatively…the debris should be able to be retrieved once we actually work out where they are. The Success is in the area obviously and that's in a position obviously to assist along with the other warships, other assets…

Warren Truss: Just a comment about the civilian aircraft that are in involved. As we've said on a number of occasions this is a search that's primarily reliant upon visual sightings, and so the civilian aircraft therefore are able to carry a number of people who can then use the great technological asset called “eyes” to be able to see across the search area.

I understand that the two aircraft that are there today are a Global Express and a Gulfstream, both of which have intercontinental capabilities and they're actually able to spend something like five hours in the search zone compared with the two or three hours that the military aircraft have available out of their journey times.

Question: You say the weather had improved better today, what about tomorrow?

Warren Truss: Well I think the forecast is better for the foreseeable future, but we'll take it one day at a time.

Question: Any resources from the Pine Gap facility being brought into…?

Warren Truss: Not to my knowledge.

Question: indistinct…weather, how would that change operations?

Warren Truss: Well if perchance visual operations become less effective we would still continue the search using radar and other technologies but clearly the risk of something being missed is greater if he weather conditions are poor.

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: What poor weather does is makes our search—we search in track lines normally to do this—so it means you take a little bit longer to cover an area so you have less probability of finding something in the water. So the poor weather if you're working visually, just means you have to cover that area a little bit more often.

Question: I'm still keen to know if you have other satellite images which suggest the same thing which you have been unable for national security reasons to release.

Warren Truss: I'm not aware anything in…indistinct…

Question: …two images?

Warren Truss: I've got nothing further to add.

Question: You've had a chance to see…indistinct…for yourself now. What's your personal feeling on our chances and the progress of what the international efforts…indistinct?

Warren Truss: Well I'm impressed with the effort that's been put into this search. I think our military personnel and those from our co-operating partners in this search, are doing an excellent job. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has also I think excelled themselves. What they're doing is undertaking an enormous search. They're trained to do this however. Their equipment is designed to support just this kind of a search. So if there's something there to be found, I'm confident this search effort will locate it.

Question: indistinct…Caboolture light plane crash?

Warren Truss: Well, I'm sorry to hear there appears to have been a crash at Caboolture. I don't have a lot of the details as yet but the advice I have is that there has been loss of life. Obviously, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will undertake an investigation into the crash and to endeavour to find out what has caused it and then to deliver whatever recommendations may be required. My sympathies to the families of those who were involved in the crash. They obviously were taking part in recreational activities that they enjoyed but it's sad that it's resulted in an accident of this nature.

Question: indistinct…Do you have enough aircraft do the job and how many will be enough…indistinct.

Warren Truss: Well we have a very substantial deployment and the number of aircraft available will be increasing in the days ahead. I'm confident that they're able to do a good job. We're deploying additional civilian aircraft to help with that effort. If the defence force believe that they need additional aircraft, or AMSA believe that they need additional aircraft, I'm sure that they'll come to the government and ask.

Question: Is this the first time for Chinese military aircraft to land in Australia?

Warren Truss: Well, I don't think so…

Defence Spokesperson Unidentified: That's a good question, I'm unsure, I don't think so, but I'm unsure.

Warren Truss: We have had exercises with Chinese aircraft in the past, so it's probable they've landed in Australia, but I can't confirm or deny that.

Question: Mr Truss, you said ‘indefinitely’, but would you expect to be here in a month's time if nothing is found.

Warren Truss: Well, look, we will take it one day at a time. We have no contingency plans to end the search any time soon. We will keep going while there's hope.

Question: indistinct…Exit strategy?

Warren Truss: We'll keep going as long as there's hope.