We fly for more than two hours to reach our designated search zone way out in the vast ocean.
Our route takes us northwest out of Sebang military airbase in Kuala Lumpur.
We follow the west coast of the Malay peninsula to Penang and then bank left, fly west out into the Strait of Malacca, then north towards the Andaman Sea.
Captain Izam Fareq Bin Hassan of the Royal Malaysian Air Force is the flight navigator.
He receives the plane’s orders from the co-ordination HQ for the search for MH370 back in Kuala Lumpur.
Our task was originally to search Zone E to the far northwest of the northern tip of Indonesia.
En route though a call comes in to Captain Hassan from the coordination centre in Kuala Lumpur to change course. “We are now to search an area in Zone Alpha but I don’t know why,” Captain Hassan tells us.
Our new designated zone straddles two larger sectors called Alpha and Charlie, which are roughly half way between Banda Aceh in Indonesia and the Thai island of Phuket.
As we approach the zone, 60 nautical miles due south of Phuket and 40 nautical miles to the west of Langkawi, we descend to under 1000 feet from the surface of the sea.
Warrant Officer Suhaili Abu Bakar takes her position at one of the plane’s small windows.
She is one of the seven crew on board our CN235 aircraft, a plane which is not equipped with any equipment to detect the missing jet.
This search mission is done with the naked eye.
“If I see something I pass it to the cockpit crew. And then the cockpit crew decide the next step,” Warrant Officer Bakar said.
The area our plane is responsible for searching is 50 nautical miles by 50 nautical miles.
Given the vastness of it all, you wonder how anyone could spot any bits of wreckage.
Air Quarter Master Mohammed Shawalatif Bin Ibrahim is responsible for radioing any sightings up to the cockpit. “We look for anything. A bit of plane obviously but anything. Baggage too,” he said.
Our comb of the area takes four hours. We fly back and forth in a zig-zag.
We fly past several huge container ships on their journey from Europe to Asia. This is the approach to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
We spot a vessel from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, which is also on the search. Our pilot acknowledges his maritime counterpart with a hard bank to the left and a circle of the boat.
A little later we pass the KD Selangor, a patrol vessel from the Royal Malaysian Navy.
On board is communication equipment which may help in the search and a helicopter in case anything is spotted.
Our search continues: back and forth, zigzags.
On the navigator’s map we’re creating the rungs of a ladder in the square that is our zone.
No cameras are allowed in the cockpit but the pilot, Major Ahmad Syazwan Bin Mohammed, allows me in for a brief chat.
He points at the altimeter. “500 feet, very low,” he said.
He explains that the range of all the planes on the search is reduced because they use up more fuel at low altitudes.
It’s yet another factor which makes this search so hard.
An hour later, a moment of drama. Our plane leaves its zigzag pattern and begins to bank sharply and descend steeply.
We drop to just above the water’s surface and circle a small area for about five minutes.
One of the crew has spotted something and they want a better view. They gather at a couple of side windows. Sadly, it is nothing. A ripple in the water perhaps.
As we return back to Kuala Lumpur, without a lead, I ask Air Quarter Master Ibrahim how hard he feels the task is. He pauses, looks out of his small window.
“Very difficult. But we never give up,” he said.