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Sub hunting for source of 'pings' in plane search



By NICK PERRY

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Search crews were for the first time sending a sub deep into the Indian Ocean to try and determine whether faint sounds detected by equipment on board an Australian ship are from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane's black boxes, Australia's acting prime minister said Tuesday.

Warren Truss, Australia's acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is overseas, said the crew on board the Ocean Shield will launch the underwater vehicle, the Bluefin 21 autonomous sub, on Tuesday. The unmanned miniature sub can create a sonar map of the area to chart any debris 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.

Angus Houston, who is heading the search, said Monday that the Ocean Shield, which is towing sophisticated U.S. Navy listening equipment, detected late Saturday and early Sunday two distinct, long-lasting sounds underwater that are consistent with the pings from an aircraft's "black boxes" - the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Houston dubbed the find "a most promising lead" in the monthlong hunt for clues to the plane's fate, but warned it could take days to determine whether the sounds were connected to Flight 370.

Crews have been trying to re-locate the sounds since Sunday, but have thus far had no luck, Truss said.

"Today is another critical day as we try and reconnect with the signals that perhaps have been emanating from the black box flight recorder of the MH370," he said. "The connections two days ago were obviously a time of great hope that there had been a significant breakthrough and it was disappointing that we were unable to repeat that experience yesterday."

Truss said the crew would use the sub Tuesday to examine the water in the search area in the hopes of another breakthrough.

Finding the black boxes is key to unraveling what happened to Flight 370, because they contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings that could explain why the plane veered so far off-course during its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8.

But time was running out to find the devices, whose locator beacons have a battery life of about a month. Tuesday marks exactly one month since the plane vanished.

"Everyone's anxious about the life of the batteries on the black box flight recorders," Truss said. "Sometimes they go on for many, many weeks longer than they're mandated to operate for - we hope that'll be the case in this instance. But clearly there is an aura of urgency about the investigation."

The first sound picked up by the equipment on board the Ocean Shield lasted two hours and 20 minutes before it was lost, Houston said. The ship then turned around and picked up a signal again - this time recording two distinct "pinger returns" that lasted 13 minutes.

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

The black boxes normally emit a frequency of 37.5 kilohertz, and the signals picked up by the Ocean Shield were both 33.3 kilohertz, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said. But the manufacturer indicated the frequency of black boxes can drift in older equipment.

The frequency used by aircraft flight recorders was chosen because no other devices use it, and because nothing in the natural world mimics it, said William Waldock, a search-and-rescue expert who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.

"They picked that so there wouldn't be false alarms from other things in the ocean," he said.

But these signals are being detected by computer sweeps, and "not so much a guy with headphones on listening to pings," said U.S. Navy spokesman Chris Johnson. So until the signals are fully analyzed, it's too early to say what they are, he said.

"We'll hear lots of signals at different frequencies," he said. "Marine mammals. Our own ship systems. Scientific equipment, fishing equipment, things like that. And then of course there are lots of ships operating in the area that are all radiating certain signals into the ocean."

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 flight recorder.

"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."

The Ocean Shield is dragging a ping locator at a depth of 3 kilometers (1.9 miles). It is designed to detect signals at a range of 1.8 kilometers (1.12 miles), meaning it would need to be almost on top of the recorders to detect them if they were on the ocean floor, which is about 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) deep.

Houston said the signals picked up by the Ocean Shield were stronger and lasted longer than faint signals a Chinese ship reported hearing about 555 kilometers (345 miles) south in the remote search zone off Australia's west coast.

The British ship HMS Echo was using sophisticated sound-locating equipment to determine whether the two separate sounds heard by the Chinese patrol vessel Haixun 01 were related to Flight 370. The Haixun detected a brief "pulse signal" on Friday and a second signal Saturday.

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

Meanwhile, the search for any trace of the plane on the ocean's surface continued Tuesday. Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 77, 580 square kilometers (29,954 square miles) of ocean, 2,270 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, with good weather predicted, said the Joint Agency Coordination Center, which is overseeing the operation.

___

Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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Wizard April 08 2014 at 3:54 AM

How the hell do you lose a whole plane with almost 250 people on it no trace at all no sign no nothing it just doesn't make since something is not right in this day and age with radar, gps, satellites everything I tell ya something is weird about this whole thing.

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2 replies
BOB Wizard April 08 2014 at 5:59 AM

Lots of area to cover and at times in a crash,things break up and the black boxes can drift miles away from where the craft is located.
I is very important to locate at leact the cockpit part so people will be able to see if the crew flying the craft were taken over
BOB

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nam2205 Wizard April 08 2014 at 6:08 AM

The Indian ocean is the deepest ocean. A plane is very small in comparison. I don't understand why they keep throwing money away on this.

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mikesuntok April 08 2014 at 3:38 AM

we can find this plane. if we pretend it was a lost russian sub, with new secret propulsion systems that prevent their detection, we can find it!

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npaleorelic April 08 2014 at 6:06 AM

Dal....The mindset of our economic system is profits at any costs. Profit trumps everything. Unfortunately the concept of wealth and greed are also mitigating factors. Unbelievably it is the mindset of corporations to pass off defective products first and fix it all later if and when it is found out or comes to the surface. Hell, they even pass off tainted foods to us. It's kinda like "what we don't know won't hurt us" policy.

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Joe Clarke April 08 2014 at 6:24 AM

Got to be Kidding me its 2014 and the pinger batteries last maybe a month Jeez they had great tech for the Voyager 1 able to keep track of it and had power for what 30 something years. and now its 2014 have no idea where a 777 is and oh yeah the pinger batteries might make it a month !!!

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dorc792 April 08 2014 at 12:23 AM

very mysterious events tied to this story.....

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Cath's April 08 2014 at 5:36 AM

I love the over-usage of the word 'sophisticated' when describing the vessels that are in search of the plane. Clearly they aren't 'sophisticted' enough. That having been said, I still believe something is very wrong with the entire picture. There have been far too many variables, smoke screens and wild goose chases with this tragedy.

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soozeeeq April 08 2014 at 1:45 AM

Somehow, I'd think life vests and floating devices would have surfaced by now...hmmm

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Gary Traxler April 08 2014 at 6:57 AM

The Ocean Shield is presently dragging what in naval terms is called an array behind it.
She also has a deep water submersible ROV on board that can way deeper than any diver or Sub.
If you are going to find the Doomed MH-370 that is the right approach.
Tell China that Hydrophone is ancient technology.

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thac396174 April 08 2014 at 4:05 AM

All commercial aircraft have a flight data recorder and a flight voice reorder with an pingers

but the aircraft also has emergency locator transmitters ELT alone with each door has a life raft with with an emergency locator transmitters ELT automatically transmits a digitally encoded signal upon impact in the event of a crash. - See more at:

http://aerospace.honeywell.com/products/information-and-maintenance-management/emergency-locator-transmitters#sthash.kVIVXvrb.dpuf

http://aerospace.honeywell.com/products/information-and-maintenance-management/emergency-locator-transmitters

so there a total of 9 ELT and 2 pingers on MH370

FAA to order inspections of Boeing 787 emergency locator transmitters

http://atwonline.com/safety/faa-order-inspections-boeing-787-emergency-locator-transmitters

FAA to order inspections of Boeing 787 emergency locator transmitters

Boeing Dreamliner Fire Linked To A Honeywell Emergency Beacon

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/boeing-dreamliner-fire-linked-to-elt-2013-7#ixzz2yHIlOEYP

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LEE April 08 2014 at 4:12 AM

They are getting close. Only 2oo miles apart between located pings which carry only 2 miles max! They need a third ping location to locate the exact location of the survivors.

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4 replies
aol~~ 1209600

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