Search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

A timeline of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA’s) involvement in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.


This timeline has been developed as a historical resource to preserve for the record the public information released by AMSA during the period in which AMSA was the lead agency in the search for Malaysia Airline flight MH370 before transition to the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC).

The information contained in this timeline is not a comprehensive report on all of AMSA's operations during this period and as such is only intended to provide an overview of AMSA's involvement.

8 March 2014


Boeing 777, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, with 239 people on board, took off from Kuala Lumpur airport on a six-hour flight to Beijing, China.


Flight MH370 disappeared from air traffic controllers' screens.

Malaysian authorities commenced a search of the South China Sea but there was no sign of the missing aircraft.

After analysis of satellite data, it was determined MH370 continued to fly for over six hours after contact was lost. The satellite transmissions indicated the aircraft likely travelled on one of two corridors: one to the north in the direction of Kazakhstan and one to the south into the Indian Ocean.

17 March

Following discussions between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, AMSA assumed responsibility for coordination of a search in Australia's search and rescue region.

Australia’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) at AMSA in Canberra commenced coordination of search and rescue operations.

The search area was developed.

Discussions were held with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) regarding the availability of aircraft capable of operating at long distance into the Southern Indian Ocean.

AMSA issued a broadcast to shipping at 5.38 pm.

18 March

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined a search area 2,500 kilometres from Perth and 600,000 square kilometres in area.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion aircraft relocated from Cocos (Keeling). Three other RAAF P3 Orions also commenced search activities in the area.

19 March

The search area was refined to approximately 305,000 square kilometres, 2,600 kilometres southwest of Perth, an area the size of New South Wales.

Three merchant ships responded to the broadcast to shipping issued by AMSA. One merchant vessel transited the area, and two others undertook a search and assist role.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion aircraft and a United States Navy (USN) P8 Poseidon joined the search.

20 March

AMSA received commercial satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for the missing aircraft. The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation assessed them as 'credible'; however, ‘possibly not be related to the aircraft’.

As a result of this information, four aircraft were reoriented to a 23,000 square kilometre area, 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

An RAAF aircraft was tasked to drop datum marker buoys to assist in drift modelling.

Three RAAF aircraft, a United States Navy (USN) aircraft and a RNZAF aircraft assisted in the search.

A total of six merchant ships also assisted since a shipping broadcast was issued on 17 March.

Australia’s HMAS Success was en route to the search area.

21 March

Five aircraft assisted in the search, including three RAAF, one RNZAF and a civil aircraft. Seven State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers from Victoria were tasked as air observers.

22 March

The search area was 36,000 square kilometres, 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

AMSA tasked six aircraft, including three RAAF, a RNZAF P3 Orion, and two ultra-long-range commercial jets. 10 SES volunteers from Western Australia were tasked as air observers.

Two merchant vessels assisted with HMAS Success en route.

Four self-locating datum marker buoys continued to report water movement data back to AMSA.

A civil aircraft tasked by AMSA reported sighting a number of small objects, including a wooden pallet, within a radius of 5 kilometres.

A RNZAF aircraft with specialist electro-optic observation equipment were diverted to the location, but only reported sighting clumps of seaweed.

Another datum marker buoy was dropped to track the movement of the material, and a merchant ship was tasked to relocate and identify it.

China provided a satellite image to Australia, possibly showing a 22.5 metre floating object in the Southern Indian Ocean. AMSA plotted the position, but the object was not sighted again the following day.

23 March

The search area was split into two within the same proximity, covering a cumulative 59,000 square kilometre area. The western boundary of the area was about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth. These areas were determined by drift modelling.

Eight aircraft were tasked to undertake the search with HMAS Success, which had arrived to support the search effort. 20 Twenty SES volunteers from WA were tasked as air observers on board the civil aircraft.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, visited AMSA headquarters in Canberra.

24 March

Malaysian Prime Minister declared that ‘based on INMARSAT advice, that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 ‘ended in the Southern Indian Ocean’.

The two search areas covered a cumulative 68,500 square kilometres, 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

Ten aircraft were involved in the search, three were civil aircraft. 20 SES volunteers from WA were nominated to be air observers on board the civil planes.

HMAS Success remained in the search area, with a number of Chinese ships en route.

A Chinese aircraft sighted objects. The US aircraft attempted to relocate the objects but was unable to do so.

Other objects were spotted by a RAAF P3 Orion and HMAS Success was tasked to locate them. One object was grey or green and circular, the other was orange and rectangular.

Another P3 Orion also spotted objects; the HMAS Success attempted to relocate them but was unable to.

Malaysian Prime Minister advised that the search had changed from search and rescue to search and recovery.

25 March

The search was suspended for the day due to adverse weather. HMAS Success departs the search area, to return once weather conditions improve.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed the focus was now on search and recovery of any objects related to MH370.

26 March

Six countries assisted Malaysia in the search operation – Australia, New Zealand, United States, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

The search area was split into three areas covering a cumulative 80,000 square kilometres.

HMAS Success travelled back to the search area to conduct a surface sweep for objects of interest at the location pinpointed by a RAAF P3 Orion.

Chinese polar supply ship Xue Long also arrived on scene.

The search involved 12 aircraft, from China, Japan, Korea, Australia, US, and New Zealand, along with civil aircraft.

AMSA received satellite information from the Malaysia Remote Sensing Agency. The positions indicated were within the search area.

Unrelated to the satellite information, three objects were spotted by two aircraft, but were not relocated.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott met with the Australian families of those lost on Flight MH370. He also delivered a message of condolence to the families in Parliament. The families were briefed at AMSA and were taken on a tour of the AMSA Response Centre.

27 March

The search area was split into two, covering a cumulative 78,000 square kilometres.

Six military aircraft, five civil aircraft and five ships participated in the search.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) received new information as it sought to refine the search area.

28 March

The search area shifts 1,100 kilometres to the northeast, based on updated advice provided by the international investigation team in Malaysia.

The credible new lead is based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost.

Ten aircraft were involved in the search, from Australia, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, United States and Japan.

Six vessels set off for the new search area, including HMAS Success and five Chinese ships.

AMSA and the ATSB held a joint press conference.

A US towed ‘pinger’ locator and Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle arrived in Perth to assist with location and recovery of the black box.

Five aircraft spotted multiple objects of various colours. China’s Haixun 01 is tasked to relocate the objects the next day.

29 March

The objects sighted the day before prove not to be related to MH370.

On this day 252,000 square kilometres was searched.

Search activities involved eight aircraft from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, China, and one civil jet acting as a communications relay.

Four ships reached the search area, with a further five ships arriving the following day.

HMAS Success and Haixun 01 retrieved a number of objects; however, the objects were examined and not believed to be related to MH370.

30 March

The search area on this day was 319,000 square kilometres, 1,850 kilometres west of Perth.

Nine aircraft were involved in the search, from Australia, Japan, China, Republic of Korea, United States, Malaysia and two civil aircraft.

Eight ships were also tasked to the search.

The US underwater towed ‘pinger’ locator and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) were fitted to Ocean Shield.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announces that Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC AFC is appointed to lead a new Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in Perth. The JACC coordinated the Australian Government's support for the search into MH370 from within the Department Transport and Regional Development.

31 March

JACC became operational and was responsible for coordinating all Australian Government support for the search and being the coordination point for whole-of-Australian Government information, messaging and stakeholder engagement, including keeping the families of those onboard and the general public informed of the progress of the search.

The JACC also coordinated all international engagement with the Government of Malaysia and the People’s Republic of China.

Search activities involved ten aircraft, with ten ships tasked to the search, two from Australia, along with seven Chinese ships and a merchant vessel.

ADV Ocean Shield departed HMAS Stirling with the towed ‘pinger’ locator installed.

The search for MH370 transitioned from a search and rescue operation to an investigation phase with the JACC taking over day-to-day communications.

AMSA became part of JACC response including the ATSB, Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

Last updated: 26 February 2024