'The world is counting on us' says former Greenwood pilot on search for missing Malaysian plane

Sharon Montgomery-Dupe
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New Victoria man says search crews desperately looking for answers to fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370


A former 14 Wing Greenwood pilot involved in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet says the mission is emotional and people want answers.

"The world is counting on us," said Capt. Mike MacSween,.

The 36-year-old Cape Breton native serves with the Royal Canadian Air Force and is currently on a three-year exchange program with the Royal Australian Air Force.

"One of the hard things for myself and the crew — everyone is so motivated and really hoping to find something on these missions, something to positively link it to the aircraft."

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 vanished from civilian radar March 8 less than an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board. The Malaysian prime minister recently told families the plane crashed in the ocean, but some are still clinging to hope for their loved ones.

MacSween, a flight commander in charge of a 12-man crew, said he can't imagine what the families are going through and search crews are trying to get answers.

"What we are searching for is any debris. I guess there is always hope but it’s getting slimmer, obviously, as the days go by," he said.

“None of the debris spotted has been recovered by a ship. People are waiting for the definite. If there would be something concrete located as part of the airplane, I think people would be able to accept it a lot easier. "Unfortunately we haven’t found anything like that yet.”

Read more about MacSween's involvement in the search.

MacSween said his crew did spot debris this week.

"On our second flight we were able to locate two items in the water.

"Because of the weather — the weather is so bad — we weren't able to relocate them again after we saw them."

MacSween said his crew sent the position of those items to one of the Australian navy's warships in the area but the seas were too high.

MacSween has been stationed at the Royal Australian Air Force's Base Pearce — 35 kilometres north of Perth — since Friday.

He said the magnitude of the situation has the world waiting for any update.

"We were the first plane to take off (Thursday) at 6 a.m. and the first to come back as well. After landing there are hundreds of media waiting for an update."

He said it's a four-hour flight to the search location.

"We spend anywhere between two and three hours searching. Then it takes us another four to get back after that."

MacSween said the search Thursday included 11 aircraft.

Aircraft from Australia, New Zealand, United States, China, South Korea, Japan and the United States, as well as civilian planes, have been assisting with the efforts.

He said a challenging part of the mission has been the weather. On Thursday, the search was called off halfway through the day because of the conditions, which included low clouds, low visibility, high winds and rough seas.

"We are hoping the weather is going to give us a break one of these days so we can have a little bit of a relief and get some accurate searching done."

MacSween said there is a lot of risk involved in the search — at times they are flying as low as 100 feet above the water.

"We fly low and through some pretty bad weather. It can be very challenging.

“Normally we try to conduct our searches at 500 feet, but it depends on the weather in the area — it could be lower or higher.”

Before each flight, a tasking message is issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, he said.

“Each day each of those aircrafts will be given a slightly different area. There is a lot of science and experts involved in which areas to be searching.”

The Indian Ocean is 68,556,000 square kilometres in area.

MacSween said there is specialized equipment on board the planes, including radar and sophisticated cameras.

“The other thing which we rely on is visual lookouts — people in the windows with their eyes out searching the ocean," he said.

“We have a lot more sophisticated items on the aircraft but when it come down to the tasking, we are actually doing a visual search of the area. A lot of it is just relying on people looking out the window looking for things.”

MacSween says he gets back to Cape Breton to visit parents Karen and Kevin MacSween of New Victoria as often as possible. His parents have visited his family — wife Allison and children Madeline, 5, and Levi, 2 — twice already in Australia.

He's not sure where the Royal Canadian Air Force will be posting him after the exchange ends, but is hoping to go back to CFB Greenwood.

"That’s one of the biggest reasons I want to go back to Greenwood — to bring the things I've learned here back there."

Organizations: Malaysia Airlines, Canadian Air Force, Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Australia, United States Perth New Zealand China South Korea Japan Indian Ocean

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