Missing Plane Hunt Costs US Military $2.6 Million

P-8 Poseidon

The Defense Department has spent $2.6 million to date in the expanding international search effort to find missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

The $2.6 million was part of a total of $4 million initially set aside by the U.S. for the hunt that now involves one Navy P-8 Poseidon and one Navy P-3 Orion surveillance and submarine hunter aircraft.

The destroyer Kidd, which was originally assigned to the search, has now been detached and sent back to its regular assignment in the South China Sea, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Warren said the P-3 was searching in the Bay of Bengal while the P-8 was assigned to the prime search area about 1,500 miles off the west coast of Australia.

The P-8 has a top speed of 490 knots and a ceiling of 41,000 feet, but in the search effort the P-8 “will typically fly at 5,000 feet at 350 knots, dropping to 1,000 feet to get a visual identification of any radar returns,” said Cmdr. William Marks, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet.

For a third day, search efforts coordinated by the Australian Defense Forces focused on finding an elusive debris trail reportedly spotted by satellite in the hunt for the Boeing 777-200ER that vanished nearly two weeks ago on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard.

On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that a satellite had photographed two large objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean that might be debris from the Boeing 777.

In addition to the Navy P-8, the ADF has four AP-3C Orion patrol aircraft along with a New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion. The oiler HMAS Success was expected to arrive Saturday in the main search area, where rough seas and stormy weather have been reported, the ADF said.

China was sending three warships to join the search effort -- the amphibious dock Kunlunshan, the destroyer Haikou, and the supply ship Qiandaohu, the ADF said. There was no immediate indication on when the Chinese ships would arrive.

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, which had been on a port visit to Fremantle, Australia, also was joining the search and left port Friday.

Japan was sending two P-3 Orions and Britain was sending the oceanographic survey ship the HMS Echo.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@monster.com

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