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More pings raise hopes missing MH370 jetliner will be found soon



PERTH, Australia (AP) -- After a navy ship heard more signals from deep in the Indian Ocean, the head of the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner said Wednesday he believes the hunt is closing in on the "final resting place" of Flight 370.

The Australian vessel Ocean Shield picked up two signals Tuesday, and an analysis of two other sounds detected Saturday showed they were consistent with a plane's flight recorders, or "black boxes," said Angus Houston, the Australian official coordinating the search for the Malaysian Airlines jet.

"I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not-too-distant future," Houston said. "But we haven't found it yet, because this is a very challenging business."

Finding the flight data and cockpit voice recorders soon is important because their locator beacons have a battery life of about a month, and Tuesday marked one month since Flight 370 vanished March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people aboard.

If the batteries fail before the recorders are located, finding them in such deep water - about 4,500 meters, or 15,000 feet - would be difficult, if not impossible.

"I believe we are searching in the right area, but we need to visually identify aircraft wreckage before we can confirm with certainty that this is the final resting place of MH370," Houston said. "For the sake of the 239 families, this is absolutely imperative."

The hope expressed by Houston contrasted with the frustrating monthlong search for the Boeing 777, which disappeared shortly after takeoff in one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history. The plane veered off-course for an unknown reason, with officials saying that satellite data indicates it went down in the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of western Australia. The black boxes could help solve that mystery.

The signals detected 1,645 kilometers (1,020 miles) northwest of Perth by the Ocean Shield's towed ping locators are the strongest indication yet that the plane crashed and is now at the bottom of the ocean in the area where the search is now focused.

A data analysis of the signals heard Saturday determined they were distinct, man-made and pulsed consistently, Houston said.

"They believe the signals to be consistent with the specification and description of a flight data recorder," he said.

To assist the Ocean Shield, the Australian navy dropped buoys by parachute in a pattern near where the signals were last heard.

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy will dangle a hydrophone listening device about 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the surface. The hope, he said, is the buoys will help better pinpoint the signals.

Houston acknowledged searchers were running out of time, noting the last two signals were weaker and briefer than the first pair heard Saturday, suggesting the batteries are failing. One lasted two hours and 20 minutes and the second lasted 13 minutes; those heard Tuesday lasted just 5 1/2 minutes and 7 minutes.

"So we need to, as we say in Australia, `make hay while the sun shines,'" Houston said.

The weakening of the signals also could indicate the device was farther away, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said. Temperature, water pressure or the saltiness of the sea could also be factors.

Leavy said thick silt on the ocean floor also could distort the sounds and may hide wreckage from the eventual visual search.

Houston said a decision had not yet been made on how long to use the towed ping locator while knowing the beacons' batteries will likely fail soon, saying only that a decision to deploy an unmanned submarine in the search was "not far away."

"Hopefully in a matter of days, we will be able to find something on the bottom that might confirm that this is the last resting place of MH370," he said.

When the ping locator's use is exhausted, the unmanned sub will be sent to create a sonar map of a potential debris field on the seabed. The Bluefin 21 sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator.

Matthews said the detections indicate the beacon is within about a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius, equal to a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) chunk of the ocean floor.

That's like trying to find a desktop computer in a city the size of Los Angeles and would take the sub about six weeks to two months to canvass. So it makes more sense to continue using the ping locator to zero in on a more precise location, Matthews said.

The Bluefin sub's sonar scans about to 100 meters and can "see" with lights and cameras only a few meters. Its maximum dive depth is 4,500 meters, and some areas of the search zone are deeper.

The audio search was narrowed to its current position after engineers predicted a flight path by analyzing signals between the plane and a satellite and investigators used radar data to determine the plane's speed and where it may have run out of fuel.

Houston noted that all four of the pings detected since Saturday were near the site of a final, partial "handshake" signal revealed earlier in the investigation.

He also noted the surface search for any floating debris has been adjusted and intensified based on where the four pings were heard and where ocean currents might have caused objects to drift. Fifteen planes and 14 ships searched a 75,400-square-kilometer area that extends from 2,250 kilometers northwest of Perth on Wednesday.

Despite the challenges, those involved in the hunt were buoyed by the Ocean Shield's findings.

"I'm an engineer so I don't talk emotions too much," Matthews said. "But certainly when I received word that they had another detection, you feel elated. You're hopeful that you can locate the final resting place of the aircraft and bring closure to all the families involved."

--

Gelineau reported from Sydney. Associated Press Writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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quincy_maxwell April 09 2014 at 11:30 PM

Nothing like waiting until the last minute to do what they should have done 3 weeks ago.

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izabo April 09 2014 at 2:11 PM

I don't know about the terrorist theory. Terrorists want to get as much attention as possible and cause as much damage to 'terrorize' others. If you're a terrorist and you have a fully fueled rocket, you would crash that plane into as many people as you could, not fly silently into the abyss. I tend to believe the fire theory, that makes more sense to me. Now what caused the fire could very well have been a terrorist act. Those black boxes hold the answers. God bless the families of those missing.

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flyingfortresb17 April 09 2014 at 3:28 PM

Both the flight recorder and the cockpit voice recorder are in a similar area in the plane but that does not make it they will both end up in the same place. However I agree that the recorders should be placed in an area where they can be expelled away from the plane with a flotation device in case of a water landing with large green dye markers.

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1 reply
ahelgerson63 flyingfortresb17 April 09 2014 at 3:58 PM

Awesome idea.

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1 reply
rothhammer1 ahelgerson63 April 09 2014 at 6:47 PM

The burger looks good..... hold the onions, please.

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Tonerking April 09 2014 at 11:14 PM

Try this (hope we don't disappoint all those searchers in the area there) Back in the late 80's the Ruskies would catch one of our nuke subs making a "good will" stop in a port outside the Us. they would have their divers place a small transmitter on the hull of the sub if possible. The device didn't ping until the sub was underway as it was powered by moving water across a small fan that in turn powered a generator for the frequency generator. When our sub crew did a hull scan while underway, and found the Ruskie gift, they would take it off, store it and the next mission they had that moved across a nice deep trench in the IO, they'd dump it. The device would generate a ping every time the bottom ocean current changed and water flowed across the fan. This was intermittent because of the various strength of the currents. The worst part of the story is the freq of the bug was 37.5 MH. Bummer huh?

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Kevin Moree April 09 2014 at 10:58 PM

Even though I do not have family involved, My Prayers are out to all those who are waiting for an answer, That may never come, but they wait..Childish Humor should be left a home, not for the family members to ever see, I would have thought people could behave better than this...........

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1 reply
honeyrose3332 Kevin Moree April 09 2014 at 11:44 PM

Thirty or forty years ago they would have. Welcome to the new world of the 2000s, it's a whole new ball game.

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rhoarclass April 09 2014 at 10:31 PM

Ask Pilot Sully about how to land on water (Hudson River) without creating a Tell-Tale Debris Field...

Why hasn't anyone interviewed him...the perp obviously did not want to found, he thought it out, Kill the passengers w/ decompression, run out of fuel (no fire no slick) then land it and sink...NO DEBRIS...! Why ? Twisted mind...!

Jaber

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1 reply
mary kay and tp rhoarclass April 09 2014 at 10:47 PM

so much wrong with your theories there is not enough space to write.

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SumBreezeHuh April 09 2014 at 2:00 PM

This is good news. Hope they can keep zeroing in to make the sub's work easier and faster. The Aussie's Ocean Shield is one tricked out ship... a beauty.

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B INSANE OBOZO April 09 2014 at 1:58 PM

we'll see... and then the NTSB can get it figured out

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ahelgerson63 April 09 2014 at 3:55 PM

If the aircraft made a "Hudson River"-style landing and just glided down onto the ocean without breaking up, then maybe it just sank intact and there might not be a huge debris field floating anywhere. Just my theory.

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1 reply
lgvxl42 ahelgerson63 April 09 2014 at 4:18 PM

...........In 30 to 40 foot sea's?

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dilbert216 April 09 2014 at 10:31 PM

I wounder why they do not have an back up system in the box, one that would respond to being pinged or paged. So instead of using all of the power hoping it will be heard, it would ping back if a device was in range of it. Simply put Marko Polo... One would also thing a larger battery could be put in. More power more time.

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