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Every day from the Perth airport and a nearby military base, about a dozen planes from several countries take flight to search for debris from missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 - so far without success. The U.S. Defense Department alone committed $7.3 million to the effort in the first month of the search, much of it spent on two U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon planes that cost $4,000 per hour to fly.
Lt. Cmdr. Adam Schantz is the officer in charge of the 32 air and ground crew manning the surveillance aircraft, which are modified Boeing 737s. This is an edited version of the interview:
Q: What does a typical day involve?
A: The maintenance crew have to come in very early in the morning, well before the sun comes up, to prep the airplane for the day's flight. Our typical mission is about nine hours. We fly anywhere between 900 miles and 1,500 miles to the Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane search zone and spend about five hours out there searching. The air crew are often working 15-hour days and the maintenance crew sometimes even more. So we are putting in really long hours, but doing well, and our crew and maintainers are motivated, and proud to be here. We haven't missed a mission yet.
Q: How do you conduct the search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane?
A: So the P-8 has a very advanced set of sensors, from radar to a series of cameras, both electro-optical and infrared, that allows us to search the ocean in different ways. And, in addition to that, we have our trained observers in the windows, monitoring the ocean with binoculars and just their eyes. It's the needle in the haystack that we are looking for. It's a massive amount of area. I don't think anybody's ever really taken on a search of this much area before to find such a small target.
Q: What are you seeing?
A: It's incredibly monotonous out there searching. That's one of the reasons I'm so proud of our aircrew, and how well they're doing, because it takes a lot of concentration to keep paying attention when hundreds and hundreds of miles of ocean are passing by.
We've found a collection of fishing nets, fishing equipment. It's just garbage.
Q: Is that discouraging?
A: Absolutely not. When we go to search an area, if we don't find anything, then we