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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'

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worldsynthesis April 07 2014 at 11:08 AM

Why do people insist on spouting on things they know "squat" about. --- EGO ???

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1 reply
Ghetto Cat worldsynthesis April 07 2014 at 11:16 AM

They know they are old or getting and are becoming concerned about things. Denial.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
n8132b April 06 2014 at 6:35 PM

The reason they have to find the aircraft for all of you that basically think this is a waste of time, is
the factor of finding out what happened to the aircraft. There are many 777 flying out there and
it is important to discover if it was a malfunction with the aircraft that can possibly happen again.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
jimpiotrowski April 06 2014 at 9:11 AM

I think and hope it turns out there was no Intent by any Individual to intentionally cause this very sad event.
I think and hope it turns out that there was just a total instrument failure, and the pilots of the plane frantically tried to turn the plane and find somewhere to land. And perhaps it turns out as simple as they just got lost and many other coincidences that were reported by the (always hungry for huge stories and twist things to keep the attention to the media outlets for huge revenue) took place, and it just ran out of fuel and any luck that was needed to find a safe landing.
What ever happened, if all passengers did perish.....may they rest in peace and bring closure to all their families that are in anguish. God bless all the passengers, the crew of this flight and all of the family members as well as their friends!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
tntlimited jimpiotrowski April 06 2014 at 10:10 AM

Hey jimpiotrowski,

I hope you are not suggesting that your imaginary god is blessing "the family members and
friends", like he has already "blessed" the passengers and crew! Religion's hypocrisy is all
consuming and never-ending...

Flag Reply +2 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
Jamie April 07 2014 at 2:44 AM

Who's great idea was it to wait until the "black boxes" battery life were about to end to actually make a vigilant effort to find them?

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1 reply
rgkarasiewicz Jamie April 07 2014 at 3:08 AM

It would be a brilliant idea to make a vigilant effort now, but not necessarily to find the actual "black boxes". After all, data can be downloaded into any "beat up" black box, and passed off as the actual one.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
radarmannoshoes rgkarasiewicz April 07 2014 at 4:02 AM

No one can fool you. Pat yourself on the back.

Flag 0 rate up
laclone April 06 2014 at 11:28 AM

Here's an idea to help speed things up in future searches for downed aircraft.

In ASW warfare, planes like the P-3 Orion and others often carry hundreds of sonobuoys, both passive and active, which they can quickly scatter over a large area to locate submarines.

Why not have a series of passive sonobuoys built that are specifically tuned to listen for these black boxes 'pings'?

Ocean search areas for downed aircraft could quickly, despite any existing weather conditions, be covered over a large area to pick-up these 'pings'.

Maritime Search aircraft are often retired military ASW aircraft, and have the capability to be equipped, in a non-military role, with an increased payload of sonobuoys. Hundreds-if not thousands of such sonobuoys could be carried by one aircraft.

Black Box Sonobuoys would quickly eliminate many superfluous search areas, and allow a concentration of resources on the more promising ones, within days. Not the weeks we've seen it take here.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
3 replies
ian47pegasus April 06 2014 at 6:32 PM

Amilia airheart and her navigator Nolan, lost without a trace, that was back then. Now with all the tech available ie; real time space satelites, far reaching radar, sophisticated communications, GPS etc. etc. Large civil Airoplanes or even ships do NOT just disapear, This whole episode stinks to high Hevan !!!!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
DJ April 06 2014 at 6:26 PM

Hope for the best, expect the worst.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
#1fisherman April 07 2014 at 10:28 AM

I think its great that 25 countries can work together on this!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
elnpet April 06 2014 at 4:08 PM

Lets hope for every ones sake this is true and this plane will be found.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
Owen elnpet April 06 2014 at 4:17 PM

I still doubt it...........

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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