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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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twong2000 April 06 2014 at 8:57 AM

It is sad to say but I sincerely wish that this is black box "ping" from MH370 so that the families will have peace so to speak

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Margaret April 06 2014 at 2:08 PM

Bill Doyle, a couple of years ago I found a cell phone in the middle of the road! Called the designated emergency number, and found the owner to return it. I'm sorry I didn't find yours! Other folks - the south Indian Ocean is a huge place, and the flight data recorder signal does not transmit over hundreds of miles. Instead of being critical of this huge multinational search effort, which has to date probably cost billions, pray that the plane is found, so that the families of the missing passengers and crew can have some closure.

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1 reply
Bill Jochimsen Margaret April 06 2014 at 2:29 PM

I pray that the Malaysian government steps up and admits that they have consistently misled all of the many countries that have tried to assist them in this matter. It would appear that only the relatives of the Chinese passengers have been able to pressure the Malaysians to come clean.

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1 reply
SumBreezeHuh Bill Jochimsen April 06 2014 at 4:58 PM

Come clean about what? I haven't heard them reveal some non-truth or fess up to lying about anything. What Malaysia has done wrong is being too eager to rush to speculation... giving hope to the families by speaking too soon, and then taking that hope taken away when they find out what they thought was wrong.

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Kate April 06 2014 at 9:34 AM

My heart breaks for the many hundreds of family members and friends, desperately hoping for news that is definitive.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
frozenbull April 06 2014 at 2:06 PM

It has to be horrible for the families. Hope this "pinging" is for real ,for their sakes .

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Adele April 06 2014 at 9:39 AM

My heart breaks for the families of those missing. I just can't imagine what they are feeling, which I'm sure changes from minute to minute. This is a terrible nightmare for them.

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donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 1:34 PM

Ask the COAST GUARDS OF THE WORLD how difficult ocean searches are.

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2 replies
Steve's Stuff donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 1:38 PM

Hey, It took 85 years to find the Titanic, even though there was a general idea where it was, and she was at least 3 to 4 times larger than a 777 even in pieces. So lets take this one day at a time.

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1 reply
Gracie GirL Steve's Stuff April 06 2014 at 2:29 PM

How True!!

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ibeyour1 donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 2:50 PM

Canada air,flight that disappeared over Vancouver in the late 1940′s was not found until 50 years later this not unusual.

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GARY110252 April 06 2014 at 10:24 PM

Enough has been said. Everything else they say without PROOF, I'm not buying it!!!

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1 reply
daisy41507 GARY110252 April 07 2014 at 6:04 AM

Gary, Don't you understand that people who put a lot of energy into these posts are doing it for entertainment? Psychologists were giving advice as the OJ trial wound down about how people could live without the entertainment of a year long trial, a trial that involved murder, and could have ended in the death penalty. And these shrinks were on TV teaching people how to avoid serious depressions due to the "loss" of the entertainment of the trial. It's the Dionysian side of people. Our more "enlightened side is called the "Apolonian"-- at least that is what I was taught in Freshman year English in college. I think Neitzche and Tolstoy had something to do with these concepts. But in the Bacci Dionysus has these women turn on someone, I think Pentheus, and tears him to bloody shreds. That is the high point in the drama. Think about the bottlenecks on the highways when there is a crash up ahead. Because we deny honoring the Dionysian in our natures in end up in violence toward others, even it it's just secret violent thought like, "I hope this plane thing goes on a while longer and that what we find out is REALLY entertaining, like maybe they gave new faces to all the male passengers in that hanger and killed all the women. Raped them first, of course. Many times. Maybe this is what is behind the Aztec's ritually sacrificing so many people. I'm reading Gary Jenning's "Aztec" for the second time. The first time I was too young for its horrors. This time I was prepared and I'd learned that Gary Jennings spent years in Mexico researching everything that is in the accurate historical novel. At one point the Aztecs were sacrificing 150,000 people a year. Well, good climate and a type of warfare that didn't allow one to kill one's opponent. Abundant food. Those defeated in battle were sacrificed. Kids, disabled people. It was a form of population control. I think it was still at that level in 1500 when the Conquistadors came. That's only 500 years ago, about. There is something called "Owning Your Own Shadow" owning the Hitler within. I think we have to face the fact that we are getting OFF on this drama. It's sad that you will likely never read this, because people don't go backwards in the scrolling. No one will read it. But at least I did my moral duty and wrote it.

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Cindy April 06 2014 at 9:58 AM

I really hope this discovery will be correct this time.
The families seem to be in deep denial about their loved ones deaths and discovering the downed play will help them begin the grief process.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
dazedboy420 Cindy April 06 2014 at 10:10 AM

Well you got Government that lies it hard to trust anyone. If this isn't the plane than maybe it was taken hostage...

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donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 1:18 PM

The Titanic remains a good example of what to expect in deep sea loses, only God and prayers can change the outcome.

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1 reply
classicvw donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 1:24 PM

Yes, and we had a very good idea where Titanic was, but we still couldn't find it for what, 70 years?

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donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 1:15 PM

Rember the SS THRASHER sunk and imploded spreading over a large area, spering new and updated equipment and search programs, having been a submariner this hit home with extream impact to sublant and all navy people, it was a shock to all involved.

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2 replies
ibeyour1 donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 2:10 PM

Someone mentioned that if there were any subs in the area (from any country, US, China, Russia, etc) that they might have "heard" the impact of a plane crash in the sea. Any thoughts on this?

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ae12wrangell donbroomall5 April 06 2014 at 4:24 PM

Thresher impolded for one reason - it, while sinking, went below 'crush depth' which was different in that year. Submarines, new ones at least, have been rebuilt to with stand almost anything. Yet no sub is strong enough to go the bottom of the Marianna Trench in the Pacific.

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