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Australian PM: 'I'm Not Putting a Time Limit' on Jet Search

The prime minister of Australia said early Monday local time (late Sunday ET) that there was no "time limit" on the painstaking search to find the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

"We can keep searching for quite some time to come and we will keep searching for quite some time to come," said Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a news conference at the Pearce Air Force Base near Perth, Australia — the point of departure for the multinational operation to locate debris from the Boeing 777.

Abbott said officials owe it to the families of passengers aboard the doomed jet and the governments involved in the grueling hunt "to do whatever we reasonably can to get to the bottom of this mystery."

He added that morale among the 550 search personnel was "high."

Image: Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott walks with Australia's Air Force Group Commander Craig Heap
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott walks with Australia's Air Force Group Commander Craig Heap, third left, and leaders of international military forces currently based in Perth during Abbott's visit to RAAF Base Pearce near Perth on March 31, 2014. JASON REED / Reuters

"They're tired, sure. But this is what they're trained for. This is what they live for," Abbott said.

He stressed that the hunt for debris is an "extraordinary difficult exercise," adding: "We are searching a vast area of ocean and we are working on quite limited information."

"Nevertheless, the best brains in the world are applying themselves to this task," Abbott said. "All of the technological mastery that we have is being applied and brought to bear here."

At the news conference, Abbott introduced Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, a former head of Australia's defense forces who has been tapped to coordinate the country's support for the painstaking search.

The Australian Maritime Safety Agency, which is coordinating the grueling search and recovery mission, said earlier Monday that 20 aircraft and ships were set to begin another day of scouring the southern Indian Ocean for debris.

— Daniel Arkin

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