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Journalists descend on dusty Australian suburb

By Karl Wilson in Perth ( Updated: 2014-03-24 20:25

Journalists descend on dusty Australian suburb
Karl Wilson
Not a lot happens in Bullsbrook. But since late last week this hot, dusty suburb on the northern outskirts of Perth, home to the Royal Australian Air Force's Base Pearce, has been transformed into an international media centre as journalists await news from aircraft searching a vast, desolate sector of the southern Indian Ocean for possible remains of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.

It is from Pearce that long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan and China have been combing a 68,000 square kilometer area after satellites picked up "objects" in the sea.

The fate of the Boeing 777 - which disappeared on a flight on March 8 from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to Beijing – has become, in the words of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, "one of the greatest mysteries of our time."

And the problem facing journalists covering this story is the lack of information.

News that one of the Chinese Ilyushin aircraft which joined the search this morning had spotted some "suspicious objects" in the southern Indian Ocean came in the form of an email from the Australian Maritime and safety Authority (AMSA) in Canberra, which is coordinating the search.

Later in the day an Australian P3-Orion confirmed it had sighted possible debris. As the matt grey aircraft landed at Pearce in the afternoon, media were escorted to the tarmac area hoping to get a few words with the captain of the aircraft - only to be told he had to go to a briefing.

Gary Booth, media liaison at Pearce, said it is difficult to keep track of what is happening as "the search is being coordinated from Canberra," on the other side of the country.

He said reporters tend to monitor what is coming out of Canberra and then seek whatever comment the crew members make when they return from their search.

Since the satellite images first surfaced last week and Pearce was named as the base for the search aircraft, journalists have congregated outside the gates.

As the numbers grew, they were moved into an area inside the base, says Steven Massey, whose sister lives nearby.

"Evidently it had become an issue of safety with cars parked all over the place outside the main gates."

And, as aircraft confirm more sightings of possible debris, an increasing number of journalists are arriving - especially from China.

Late this afternoon, as journalists waited at Pearce for any sliver of information, the Chinese consul in Perth briefed a group of Chinese journalists about what the crew of the Ilyushin had seen.

Journalists from other countries were not allowed to attend the briefing. One journalist working for the ABC said: "We were told there was not enough room inside the consulate for everyone, so the briefing was restricted to Chinese media only.

"It only lasted a few minutes and basically was about what the Chinese crew of the Ilyushin had seen."

For journalists - especially those working in television - it is a scramble to get something new for broadcasts, especially in the morning as aircraft are leaving Pearce and in the late afternoon when the aircraft return.

"I tell journalists who are heading up this way to bring water … lots of water," says Booth.

"It gets damn hot."

Even in the late afternoon as the sun slips further west and into the Indian Ocean the runway tarmac shimmers from the heat and the journalists wait for the aircraft to return and news - any scrap of news - that will make the bulletin.

Even if the aircrews say nothing it is still a story … and then the news anchors switch over to Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian press conference and an update.

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