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Ships race to investigate signals in jet search

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Underwater sounds detected by a ship searching the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet are consistent with the pings from aircraft black boxes, an Australian official said Monday, dubbing it "a most promising lead" in the month long hunt for the vanished plane.

Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search, warned that it could take days to confirm whether the signals picked up by the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield are indeed from the black boxes that belonged to Flight 370, but called the discovery very encouraging.

"Clearly this is a most promising lead, and probably in the search so far, it's probably the best information that we have had," Houston said at a news conference.

"We've got a visual indication on a screen and we've also got an audible signal - and the audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon."

After a monthlong search for answers filled with dead ends, Monday's news brought fresh hope given that the two black boxes, which contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings, are the key to unraveling exactly what happened to Flight 370 and why.

There was little time left to locate the devices, which have beacons that emit "pings" so they can be more easily found. The beacons' batteries last only about a month - and Tuesday marks exactly one month since the plane disappeared during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The Australian navy's Ocean Shield, which is carrying high-tech sound detectors from the U.S. Navy, picked up two separate signals late Saturday night and early Sunday morning within a remote patch of the Indian Ocean far off the west Australian coast that search crews have been crisscrossing for weeks. The first signal lasted two hours and 20 minutes before it was lost. The ship then turned around and picked up a signal again - this time recording two distinct "pinger returns" that lasted 13 minutes, Houston said.

"Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder," Houston said.

Still, Houston cautioned that it was too early to say the transmissions were coming from the missing 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."

The airliner's black boxes normally emit a frequency of 37.5 kilohertz, and the signals picked up by the Ocean Shield were both 33.3 kilohertz, said U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews. But officials contacted the device's manufacturer and were told the frequency of black boxes can drift near the end of their shelf lives.

The Ocean Shield was slowly canvassing a small area trying to find the signal again, though that could take another day, Matthews said.

"It's like playing hot and cold when you're searching for something and someone's telling you you're getting warmer and warmer and warmer," he said. "When you're right on top of it you get a good return."

If they pick up the signal again, the crew will launch an underwater vehicle to investigate, Matthews said. The Bluefin-21 autonomous sub can create a sonar map of the area to chart where the debris may lie on the sea floor. If it maps out a debris field, the crew will replace the sonar system with a camera unit to photograph any wreckage.

But that may prove tricky, given that the sub can only dive to about 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) - the approximate depth of the water. That means the vehicle will be operating to the limits of its capability.

Given the difficulties involved, officials warned the mystery of Flight 370 would still take time to resolve.

"It could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH370," Houston said. "In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast."

Geoff Dell, discipline leader of accident investigation at Central Queensland University in Australia, said it would be "coincidental in the extreme" for the sounds to have come from anything other than an aircraft's black box.

"If they have a got a legitimate signal, and it's not from one of the other vessels or something, you would have to say they are within a bull's roar," he said. "There's still a chance that it's a spurious signal that's coming from somewhere else and they are chasing a ghost, but it certainly is encouraging that they've found something to suggest they are in the right spot."

Meanwhile, the British ship HMS Echo, was using sophisticated sound-locating equipment to try to determine whether two separate sounds heard by a Chinese ship about 555 kilometers (345 miles) away from the Ocean Shield were related to the plane. The patrol vessel Haixun 01 detected a brief "pulse signal" on Friday and a second signal on Saturday.

The crew of the Chinese ship reportedly picked up the signals using a sonar device called a hydrophone dangled over the side of a small boat - something experts said was technically possible but extremely unlikely. The equipment aboard the British and Australian ships is dragged slowly behind each vessel over long distances and is considered far more sophisticated.

The search effort was also continuing on the ocean surface Monday. Twelve planes and 14 ships were searching three designated zones, one of which overlaps with the Ocean Shield's underwater search. All of the previous surface searches have found only fishing equipment or other sea trash floating in the water, but have found no debris related to the Malaysian plane.

MH370 Search: New Pings Offer 'Best Lead So Far'

Join the discussion

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wizardsking April 06 2014 at 9:08 PM

And now for tomorrows news. Search shows up nothing. Black Box signals just sea garbage clanging together. Or some fisherman is listing to his am/fm radio.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
smokensue April 06 2014 at 9:12 AM

I feel sad for the familys . My heart feells with the family. Hopefull they can be found and laid to a proper rest

Flag Reply +4 rate up
donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 1:10 PM

Having spent 26yrs in the US Navy and most of that time on shipboard in every body of water in the world where we could go. I spent three yrs in the Pacific and Nam, as an electronis specialist, you can't begin to under stand the problems encountered in deep sea searches, it takes very little to disrupt searches ie, storms heavy seas trhermal levels,currents etc, I would expect if this plane carshed into the sea it woul broken up and spread over a large area, if a sub could not detect the pings nor do a sonar search with no reported results, they are operating in the best enviornment and should have had the greatest success.One can only hope and pray. I & you rember from the movies they allways depicted those old subs seeking out thermal layers to hide in(like clouds )this could impead serschers efforts. evean with the newest equipment the problems will be the same, updated quipment may improve chance of sucess.
My time ended with retirement in 1976 and there have been many advancements since then and may have overcome some of the problems inherent in thisw operation

Flag Reply +9 rate up
mikemaj82 April 06 2014 at 1:01 PM

If there is a pinging signal coming from down there what else could it be? ANOTHER plane that went down whose black box is still going after 30 days? Wow.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 12:47 PM

As the batteries decay the signal should grow weaker and less frequent, just keep up the prayers for an answer for all the world the families. God bless them and give them comfort as this winds down and they face a life long memory.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
hokanut April 06 2014 at 12:41 PM

Maybe CNN was right. It was a black hole or the Easter Bunny.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
ae12wrangell April 06 2014 at 12:37 PM

I hope the searches for 370 are near an end. What we need, from now on, with all planes in all countries, are 'Black Boxes' that will ping forever and NOT cease to exist after 30/31 days. Here in the United States, we need cooperation from the NTSB, FAA, FCC, and FBI to devise such a thing. If there is a 'Black Box' made as such, and another plane s 'lost at sea' , that constant pinging, which could go on for eternity, could be what finds the plane 7 years later, or whenever.

*This will happen again. Not with Malaysia Air, but something else.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
Larry ae12wrangell April 06 2014 at 1:02 PM

Sounds like a great idea, only one problem with your idea.
Where are you going to put all the batteries it is going to take to power this eternal Black Box
with all those batteries there will only be enough seat for about 50 people wow airline ticket will skyrocket
I see you don't pay much attention to history, Planes and ships have been disapearing for 60 + years some have yet to be found, and even if they find it now , the water in that area is so deep recovering it may prove impossible

Flag Reply +4 rate up
2 replies
ae12wrangell Larry April 06 2014 at 1:32 PM

Why does it need a battery? There is an Atomic Clock at the Vice President's residents. In runs on solar energy, and can last at least until the Sun explodes and swallows Earth.

Flag +3 rate up
ibeyour1 Larry April 06 2014 at 3:42 PM

@ ae12wrangell I don't think solar works very well under water at 15- 25K feet.

Flag +1 rate up
jdbcfc April 06 2014 at 9:19 AM

think ... sorry

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Patti April 06 2014 at 12:30 PM

After scanning many comments, all I would like to say is, this is a very real tragedy no matter what happened to this plane. There were still 239 souls on board...

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
Hello Beautiful! Patti April 06 2014 at 12:34 PM

the souls have already gone on, it is only the bodies (the houses that the souls used to live in) are in that plane. Those souls will always be alive in the hearts of their loved ones.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
skipfish1 April 06 2014 at 12:21 PM

I still believe the plane is on land, perhaps kazistan.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
hokanut skipfish1 April 06 2014 at 12:40 PM

Or Iran considering the two forged Iranian passports carried by middle eastern passengers on the flight. Combined with the fact that there were scientists on board who were developing a way to electronically camouflage large objects like aircraft. That tech would be invaluable to anyone with hostile intent.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Gi Gi hokanut April 06 2014 at 2:09 PM

there were 4 of them techs from Free scale in Austin, Texas, 20 of them people were going home from Texas having finished the new device, 1man in austin will collect on patent if 4 never found.
1 this is murder for money or 2 it is a take over and everybody is safe and sound tucked away for time being.

Flag +1 rate up
mstnggtroush skipfish1 April 06 2014 at 12:52 PM

Russias # 1 ally is Kazakistan. Imagine how foolish everyone would look if this plane turns up on land? I believe it is somewhere in that sewer called the middle east.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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