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Ship hunting for more 'pings' in plane search

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Search crews have failed to relocate faint sounds heard deep in the Indian Ocean, possibly from the missing Malaysian jetliner's black boxes whose batteries are at the end of their life.

Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal who is heading the search far off Australia's west coast, said sound locating equipment on board the Ocean Shield has picked up no trace of the signals since they were first heard late Saturday and early Sunday. The signals had sparked hopes of a breakthrough in the search for Flight 370.

Finding the black boxes quickly is critical, because their locator beacons have a battery life of only about a month - and Tuesday marks exactly one month since the plane vanished. Once the beacons blink off, locating the black boxes in such deep water would be an immensely difficult, if not impossible, task.

"There have been no further contacts with any transmission and we need to continue (searching) for several days right up to the point at which there's absolutely no doubt that the batteries will have expired," Houston said.

If, by that point, the U.S. Navy listening equipment being towed behind the Ocean Shield has failed to pick up any signals, a sub on board the ship will be deployed to try and chart out any debris on the sea floor. If the sub maps out a debris field, the crew will replace its sonar system with a camera unit to photograph any wreckage.

Houston's comments contradicted an earlier statement from Australia's acting prime minister, Warren Truss, who said search crews would launch the Bluefin 21 autonomous sub on Tuesday. A spokesman for Truss said the conflicting information was a misunderstanding, and Truss acknowledged the sub was not being used immediately.

The towed pinger locator 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 said.

"This is the most positive lead, and rest assured we are pursuing it very vigorously," Defense Minister David Johnston said.

Still, officials warned it could take days to determine whether the sounds were connected to the missing plane, which vanished March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 on board.

"This is an herculean task - it's over a very, very wide area, the water is extremely deep," Johnston said. "We have at least several days of intense action ahead of us."

Houtson said finding the sound again was critical to narrowing down the search area before the sub can be used. If the vehicle went down now with the sparse data collected so far, it would take "many, many days" for it to cover all the places the pings might have come from.

"It's literally crawling at the bottom of the ocean so it's going to take a long, long time," Houston said.

Despite the excitement surrounding the Ocean Shield's sound detections, Houston warned that the search had previously been marred by false leads - such as ships detecting their own signals. Because of that, other ships cannot be sent in to help with the underwater search, as they may add unwanted noise.

"We're very hopeful we will find further evidence that will confirm the aircraft is in that location," Houston said. "There's still a little bit of doubt there, but I'm a lot more optimistic than I was one week ago."

Finding the black boxes is key to unraveling what happened to the Boeing 777, because they contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings that could explain why the plane veered so far off-course.

"Everyone's anxious about the life of the batteries on the black box flight recorders," said Truss, who is acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is overseas. "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. That would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

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.

Houston said the frequency of the sounds heard was considered "quite credible" by the manufacturer, and noted that the frequency from the Air France jet that crashed several years ago was 34 kilohertz. Pressure from being so deep below the surface and the age of the batteries can also affect the transmission level, he said.

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.

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.


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johngin1999 April 08 2014 at 7:36 AM

It's unfortunate that AOL website uses HuffPost as a "news" contributor.
HuffPost is nothing but an MSNBC type of political party basher.
HuffPost is the National Inquirer of internet media run but a an idiot who can't make up her mind about what political party she wants to be with. My guess is that she jumps ship to go where she can find the smaller minds that might listen to her BS so ahe can make more $$$$$$$$$$$$$, while bashing the rich...which she is.

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Fish on April 08 2014 at 10:37 AM

I question the air traffic control policy. In my lay person opinion, if a plane transponder is shut off, it should mean any of three things. Either the plane is having a major electrical failure, a fire, or they are going to do another 9/11 on some city. In ANY case that should have at least caused the air traffic controler to ask, not just say good night or whatever. I would have thought it should demand a scramble of fighter jets if the cockpit does not answer. A response like this would have saved all the search and questions for a fraction of the cost and maybe saved some lives.

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1 reply
SumBreezeHuh Fish on April 08 2014 at 4:23 PM

The control tower had already signed off before the transponder was shut off. The plane was leaving Malay airspace and the control tower "handed off" the plane - who then was responsible for contacting the next control tower in the next air space. Flight 370 disappeared exactly in between signing off from one air space and entering another.

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thundersstruck04 April 08 2014 at 10:54 AM

I think half of you commenting have never flown over the ocean.. it is huge.. anything that crashes in it is swallowed.. if the plane didn't break up there is no debris.. they could have had a controlled water landing and the plane didn't break up and sunk slowly.. it might take years to find it

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1 reply
Christine thundersstruck04 April 08 2014 at 11:53 AM


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2 replies
cessnapilot5 Christine April 08 2014 at 4:02 PM

You would need a highly skilled pilot to make a water landing like Capt. Sully did. There is no way that could have been done on auto pilot.

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SumBreezeHuh Christine April 08 2014 at 4:06 PM

To re-post something I said to another poster... The two Iranians were investigated and it was discovered they were seeking asylum. The younger one was meeting his mother in Germany to start a new life and the older Iranian was headed to another country as well. By all appearances and according to those that headed up the investigation, these two guys were trying to get out of Iran and start over; hence, the one way tickets. The guy who sold them the passports is a local known to provide fake passports for those seeking asylum.

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supermarine001 April 08 2014 at 10:57 AM

I would like to pray for all those people on board of the 777, it is so sad, that people here with the comments are so bad, the are people on board, so please calm down, i wish the are all safe, as for the pilots, i believe the have some metal snap, but it is to late, I also wish to thank you for all those people who are searching for the people, it is good , I have huge hope for all of the people on board, and remember HOPE DIE LAST, Paul

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1 reply
Christine supermarine001 April 08 2014 at 11:43 AM


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JRivers April 09 2014 at 7:18 AM

They need to find this plane to put questions to rest. They need to give the families closure certainly. They also need to find out what happened to reduce the liklihood of it happening again. Finally, they need to find the plane to shut up the conspiracy theory nut jobs. Though from what I've read a lot of them will never accept anything that doesn't line up with their fantasies.

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cshae89546 April 08 2014 at 8:38 AM

If an entity was clever enough to hijack an airliner full of people and hide it in a remote location in Pakistan, Afghanistan or even Diego Garcia couldn't they also be expected to be smart enough to wait a month and then trigger a device to set of a few distracting "pings" right before the battery is supposed to die?

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1 reply
SumBreezeHuh cshae89546 April 08 2014 at 5:06 PM

You guys are cracking me up with the Diego Garcia theories. That is a U.S. military base. Do you really think foreign hijackers are going to take a stolen plane to a U.S. military base? There are a couple of thousand military personnel and their families living on Diego. Don't ya think this would be a really difficult secret to keep from all those families and children? smh

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ChingOW Mango April 08 2014 at 11:48 PM

God bless all the people involved in this search - keep them safe.

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jim April 08 2014 at 8:07 AM

From day 1 this story has been full of holes and now its built up to be lost in the ocean at one of its deepest locations, not intended to be located or data recovered. Such a botched up investigation full of misinformation and false leads. If this is not a classic coverup, we have been sold a bunch of garbage as far as safety in flying, true satellite coverage etc. If we can`t track a civilian aircraft of this size, how could we possibly track a icbm or other rogue flight.

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BbabyT April 09 2014 at 11:56 AM

God Bless all the family members, and friends. I read as to the family wants to know about ground search. They never responded to this. If they were in their positipon, they be looking high and dry. hey, they love and want closure, help them, dont wait so long. If anything happened and that plane came down, think it can also be on land. water or land, GOD BLESS ALL .

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Owen April 08 2014 at 7:51 AM

this Investagation, is done, with the batteries in the ping units, giving out, there is no chance of finding this missing jet...............

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