RAAF Base Pearce: The search for Missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 could be suspended again as soon as Thursday with weather conditions expected to rapidly deteriorate again.
On Wednesday morning the search’s first sea and air crews had started returning to the site about 2500km south-west of Perth after the operation was suspended through all of Tuesday due to bad weather.
After a day in wait, a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft was the first off the the Perth tarmac, departing for the search at 5am. Six further military and five civilian aircraft were expected to follow throughout the day.
HMAS Success and China’s ice breaker the Xue Long were already at the search area by late morning, AMSA has confirmed.
But Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Neil Bennett said another weather system was already moving towards the area that could see conditions deteriorate to the same levels that saw the search halted earlier in the week.
"This is only going to be a narrow opportunity by the looks of things," he said.
"Another weather system is moving in for Thursday, which looks like that will bring an increase in winds again and also lead to a reduction in visibility through the rain associated with the cold front," he said.
The southern Indian Ocean search area is known for rapidly changing conditions and crews may only have another 18 to 24 hours of visibility, according to Mr Bennett.
"It is a rapidly moving weather system that we’re seeing down there and it's quite typical for this time of the year and quite typical for that part of the world," he said.
"It does look at the moment that we are going to see conditions probably as bad as they were yesterday.
"We are expecting strong winds, we are expecting precipitation through a cold front and we are expecting reductions in visibility through the rain and also we’re expecting to see the seas pick up as well."
Even on good days the conditions search crews face in what has become a largely "visual" operation, relying on the human eye to catch sight of objects, has been challenging.
"There’s always some swell around and there’s always going to be some wind around as well so visual operations are very difficult in this part of the world," Mr Bennett said.
"I don’t think it can be overstated just how hard the operations are, trying to find stuff down in that ocean. It is so far away and the conditions can deteriorate so rapidly."
BOM forecasts Thursday’s low pressure system and cold front should clear by Friday, with improved conditions likely to hold for Saturday before deteriorating again on Sunday.
AMSA and the Department of Defence will decide whether to continue searching on thursday based on BOM’s advice.
Six countries are now involved in the Indian Ocean search, including New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.