Searchers looking for the wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 have detected signals consistent with transmissions from black boxes.
In what is described as a “promising lead” some airplanes and ships looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner on the Indian Ocean moved on Monday toward waters where a Chinese vessel have picked up “ping” signals during the weekend, raising hopes of finding the airliner’s black box recorders.
“The towed pinger locator deployed from the Australian vessel Ocean Shield has detected signals consistent with those of black-boxes” – Said Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, who is leading the joint search and rescue operation. He called the development “very encouraging” but said it may it may take days to confirm if the signals come from the flight recorders on flight MH370, which disappeared on March 8 and which is believed to have crashed on the Indian Ocean.
The sounds were detected on two occasions over a period totalling more than two and a half hours.
“Clearly this is a most promising lead, and probably in the search so far, it’s the probably the best information that we have had,’’ Air Chief Marshal Houston told reporters.
“Once the position of the noise was determined, an underwater autonomous vehicle could be sent in to investigate’.
“It could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH370. In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast.’’
The development came as a sea and air fleet scoured the vast Indian Ocean for further underwater signals in the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines flight before its black box batteries run out.
It also comes after the earlier detection of three separate signals, which at the weekend raised hopes of solving the mystery of the missing Boeing 777.
The Ocean Shield had since picked up signals on two separate occasions in the northern part of the search zone, Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
The first signal held for two hours and 20 minutes before contact was lost.
Two distinct “pinger’’ returns, consistent with the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, were then audible for 13 minutes, he said.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said the depth in the area was approximately 4500 meters and he cautioned that it was too early to say the transmissions were coming from the black boxes on the missing passenger jet.
“I would want more confirmation before we say this is it,’’ he said. “Without wreckage, we can’t say it’s definitely here. We’ve got to go down and have a look and hopefully we’ll find it somewhere in the area that we narrowed to.’’
Up to nine military planes, three civil planes and 14 ships were taking part in today’s operation, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.
Over the weekend, the Chinese vessel Haixun 01 twice picked up an underwater signal on a frequency used for the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders — once for 90 seconds on Saturday and another more fleeting “ping’’ on Friday a short distance away.
A third “ping’’ was also being scrutinised, 300 nautical miles away, by the Australian vessel Ocean Shield.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence confirmed overnight that the HMS Echo, equipped to detect a black box, had arrived in the area where the Chinese had reported a ping.
The search area was expected to be approximately 234,000 square kilometres today, the JACC said in a statement, predicting good weather throughout the day.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people aboard vanished on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and is believed to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.
No debris has yet been found despite extensive aerial and sea searches, prompting authorities to switch to undersea acoustic surveillance in hopes of finding the aircraft.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said yesterday the Chinese finding was more promising.
“I think the fact that we’ve had two detections, two acoustic events in that location, provides some promise which requires a full investigation,’’ he said.
The hunt for the jet was refocused on the southern end of the search zone yesterday after corrected satellite data showed it was more likely the plane entered the water there.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said the Haixun 01 was already operating in that more southerly zone.
Some analysts greeted the acoustic detections with optimism, saying a 37.5kHz signal can only be transmitted by an emergency beacon. But others were sceptical and said it was vital to find supporting evidence.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said Haixun 01 was in waters about 4.5 kilometres deep, meaning “any recovery operation is going to be incredibly challenging and very demanding and will take a long period of time’’ if the plane is found there.
He said time was critical.
“This is day 30 of the search and the advertised time for the life of the batteries in the beacon is 30 days,’’ he said.
“Sometimes they last for several days beyond that — say eight to 10 days beyond that but we’re running out of time in terms of the battery life of the emergency locator beacons.’’
Air Chief Marshal Houston insisted that China was “sharing everything that’s relevant to this search’’ with the lead authority, and sidestepped questions over the Haixun 01’s location far from the other lead vessels in the search.
Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of Flightglobal, based in Singapore, said he was sceptical that the Chinese ship had picked up a pulse.
“There have been a lot of false leads in this story and we need to be extremely cautious with any information that comes,’’ he told AFP.
Ravi Madavaram, an aviation analyst with Frost & Sullivan in Kuala Lumpur, said most beacons used in the industry had the same frequency and the ping could “likely’’ be from flight MH370.
“But the Chinese have not said exactly where the ‘ping’ is originating and where they detected it,’’ he said.
Malaysian authorities believe satellite readings indicate MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean after veering dramatically off course for reasons that remain unknown.
A criminal probe has focused on hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among passengers or crew, but there is no evidence yet to support any of the theories.
Source: The Australian