World / Latest News

JACC chief Angus Houston: The man for the job

By Karl Wilson, Perth, Western Australia ( Updated: 2014-04-06 20:55

When Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed Angus Houston to head the Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC), he could not have picked a better person for the job.

The distinguished former head of the Australian Defence Force and chief marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was pulled out of retirement for what he has called his "biggest" challenge yet. JACC chief Angus Houston: The man for the job

Married with a grown up family, Houston started his career flying helicopters in the RAAF and was instrumental in negotiating with the Singaporean government to establish its air force flying school at Pearce where the massive international air search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is being conducted.

The soft spoken, tall, immaculately dressed Houston has put in long hours since arriving here in Perth, coordinating the tide of information from dozens of government departments, foreign governments and the armed forces from a number of countries involved in the massive sea and air search.

On Saturday night, as news broke that Chinse naval vessel Haixun 01 had detected a sound similar to that given out by an aircraft's black box, Houston and his team scrambled for the details.

Houston sees his role split between information coordinator and trying not to raise the hopes of the families of the 239 people on board MH370. The latest news, he suspects, will raise hopes.

He spoke to dozens of journalists crammed into a small media room at the West Australian government building known as Dumas House where the JACC has taken over an entire floor.

Since Friday, the Haixun 01 has detected what Houston described as "acoustic" sounds and another on Saturday. The Australian Defence Force vessel Ocean Shield has detected another "sound" about 300 km further north.

Houston is worried about what this may do for the relatives. "Every bit of information we have to analyse."

His compassion comes across when he speaks of those left behind by this tragedy.

He does not want to give false hope and has implored the media to be responsible in its reporting. "In the days, week and even months ahead there will be many leads. I implore you to treat them as being unverified until we can give an unequivocal verification," he said.

"We need to keep in the forefront of our minds the families and friends of the 239 passengers and crew.

"Speculation and unconfirmed reports put the families through unbearable stress. We don't want to put them under any further emotional stress."

Since taking on this job, Houston's primary focus has been to coordinate all the information relating to the search. It is not an easy job, especially with the demands of a 24-hour news cycle. But Houston is also very mindful of the relatives and at every new briefing he underlines this to the media.

Every lead has to be examined, he said. Ocean Shield will need at least 17 hours to complete its analysis of what it has detected before sailing south with its "ping" detectors.

"You have to understand, this is very, very deep water we are looking in…4.5 km deep and the sounds could be anything. The ocean is not a quiet place by any stretch of the imagination."

Trudeau visits Sina Weibo
May gets little gasp as EU extends deadline for sufficient progress in Brexit talks
Ethiopian FM urges strengthened Ethiopia-China ties
Yemen's ex-president Saleh, relatives killed by Houthis
Most Popular
Hot Topics