'We will find it' – but it could take months
Darkness still cloaked Kuala Lumpur's Subang air force base as the C-130 Hercules powered off the runway and swept out over the Strait of Malacca.
It had just turned 5.15am and the latest search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 had begun.
Rescue teams from at least 12 nations continued to fan out across an increasingly large swathe of south-east Asia yesterday hoping to locate the aircraft, which was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew.
The Hercules – among 40 aircraft now scouring the Malaysian peninsula's east and west coasts, has been running daily search missions since Saturday, its crew said.
As the sun rose on the sixth day of operations, their orders were to head north-west towards a portion of the Andaman Sea just west of the Thai island of Phuket. To rescuers the area is now known simply as Section E.
Nearly a week after the Boeing 777 disappeared, authorities continued to express bewilderment over its whereabouts. "There is no real precedent for a case like this. The plane vanished," Malaysia's transport and defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.
However, the mission from Kuala Lumpur to Section E underlined just how far off course the missing plane is feared to have strayed.
The search area, off the west coast of Thailand and not far from Phuket, is hundreds of miles west of MH370's planned route to Beijing. Capt Syansul, the search aircraft co-pilot, said the plane would have needed to fly between 300 and 400 nautical miles in the wrong direction to reach it.
Officials appear to believe that is – at least – a possibility.
Sgt Zulfamy Bin Sulaman, who has been working gruelling 15-hour shifts since the plane's disappearance, was more certain. "Yes, we will find it," he said.
But as the hours ticked by and there was no trace of MH370, spirits fell. "Section A, B, C, D, E – I have been to them all," said Capt Syansul. "I have been out every day but so far no sighting. Nothing."
Sgt Zulfamy insisted that his team would keep flying until the plane was found – which the Malaysian authorities have said could take months. "We feel it is our responsibility," he said.
But he admitted that the long hours were beginning to take their toll. "You have to be mentally strong," he said. "After two hours (staring at the sea) you feel lightheaded. You can't focus any more." (© Daily Telegraph, London)