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MH370's captain spoke final words to air traffic control, investigators say

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- An Australian aircraft Thursday detected what may be the fifth signal coming from a man-made device deep in the Indian Ocean, adding to hopes that searchers will soon pinpoint the object's location and send down a robotic vehicle to confirm if it is a black box from the missing Malaysian jet.

The Australian air force P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sonar buoys into the water near where four earlier sounds were heard, picked up a "possible signal" that may be from a man-made source, said Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search off Australia's west coast.

"The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight," Houston said in a statement.

If confirmed, the signal would further narrow the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.

The Australian ship Ocean Shield picked up two underwater sounds on Tuesday, and two sounds it detected Saturday were determined to be consistent with the pings emitted from a plane's flight recorders, or "black boxes."

The Australian air force has been dropping sonar buoys to maximize the sound-detectors operating in a search zone that is now the size of the city of Los Angeles.

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy is dangling a hydrophone listening device about 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the surface. Each buoy transmits its data via radio back to the plane.

The underwater search zone is currently a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) patch of the ocean floor, and narrowing the area as much as possible is crucial before an unmanned submarine can 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 pinger locator being towed by the Ocean Shield, and would take six weeks to two months to canvass the current underwater search zone. That's why the acoustic equipment is still being used to get a more precise location, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said.

The search for floating debris on the ocean surface was narrowed Thursday to its smallest size yet - 57,900 square kilometers (22,300 square miles), or about one-quarter the size it was a few days ago. Fourteen planes and 13 ships were looking for floating debris, about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth.

Crews hunting for debris on the surface have already looked in the area they were crisscrossing on Thursday, but were moving in tighter patterns, now that the search zone has been narrowed to about a quarter the size it was a few days ago, Houston said.

Houston has expressed optimism about the sounds detected earlier in the week, saying on Wednesday that he was hopeful crews would find the aircraft - or what's left of it - in the "not-too-distant future."

Separately, a Malaysian government official said Thursday evening that investigators have concluded the pilot spoke the last words to air traffic control, "Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero," and that his voice had no signs of duress. A re-examination of the last communication from the cockpit was initiated after authorities last week reversed their initial statement that the co-pilot was speaking different words.

The senior government official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. The conclusion was first reported by CNN.

Investigators suspect the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a satellite and analysis of its speed and fuel capacity, but the content of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders is essential to solving the mysteries of why the plane was lost.

The search for the black boxes is increasingly urgent because their locator beacons have batteries that last about a month and may fail soon.

An Australian government briefing document circulated among international agencies involved in the search on Thursday said the acoustic pingers likely would continue to transmit at decreasing strength for up to 10 more days, depending on conditions.

Once there is no hope left of the Ocean Shield hearing more sounds, the Bluefin sub will be deployed.

Complicating matters, however, is the depth of the seafloor in the search area. The pings detected earlier are emanating from 4,500 meters (14,763 feet) below the surface - which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive.

"It'll be pretty close to its operating limit. It's got a safety margin of error and if they think it's warranted, then they push it a little bit," said Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at Sydney University.

The search coordination center said it was considering options in case a deeper diving sub is needed. But Williams suspects if that happens, the search will be delayed while an underwater vehicle rated to 6,000 meters (19,700 feet) is dismantled and air freighted from Europe, the U.S. or Japan.

Williams said colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts had autonomous and remotely operated underwater vehicles that will dive to 11 kilometers (36,100 feet), although they might not be equipped for such a search.

Underwater vessels rated to 6,500 meters (21,300 feet) could search the seabed of more than 90 percent of the world's oceans, Williams said.

"There's not that much of it deeper than 6 1/2 kilometers," he said.

Williams said it was unlikely that the wreck had fallen into the narrow Diamantina trench, which is about 5,800 meters (19,000 feet) deep, since sounds emanating from that depth would probably not have been detected by the pinger locator.


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

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
olemanoman1950 April 10 2014 at 2:09 PM

Any one watch when they showed the pinger and how it operates. It's about the size of a roll of quarters and has it's own battery power source and it does not need a lot of water to sound it off.

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rogerl1961 April 10 2014 at 11:09 PM

this is a response to sumbreeze question about finding all those multiple pings.....So i would like to know if we are finding pings are these pings Sporadic? Its my understanding that the pings are about 1 a second or so apart. So if we find a ping why aren't we just honing into the ping? The thing is on the bottom (or so we are led to believe) and it should be a really simple task to find it if they can hear pings. If the pings are erratic that seems suspicious to me.

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2 replies
jjelte rogerl1961 April 10 2014 at 11:37 PM

The pings are constant. The things that are not constant are the floor of the ocean and temperature layers which can echo or even block the pings. The problems will be fewer as they get closer and the terrain is less of a factor. The hope is to get as tight a lock on the signal as possible, to narrow the search area as much as can be, before the pings run out. The pings can be heard from a long distance, like using a telescope. When the submarines take over with sonar, it will be more like looking with a microscope.

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Roger Mitchell rogerl1961 April 11 2014 at 1:08 AM

what about the pong's you cant have a pingpong ball without a pong.

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1 reply
Lynne Roger Mitchell April 11 2014 at 5:17 AM

Cute. Was this remark meant to make the children who have missing parent's or parent laugh?

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patriciaaellis April 13 2014 at 8:57 AM

It doesn't matter who said what or who did what. If the pilot planned on killing himself and everyone on board, he would have made a statement before he signed off, otherwise his suicide wouldn't have been seen as such. If he planned on doing that, why divert the plane, he could have dumped the fuel and let the plane crash into the ocean and not have flown for so many hours after the last contact. If it wassuicide highjackers why not crash the plan then and not hours later? None of it makes sense. I feel the plane was highjacked and is not in the ocean but somewhere else and the black box was dumped. Why those passengers? Was there someone on board that was more 'important' than the rest of the passengers and the govt doesn't want anyone to know? There's alot of time and money spent for just one plane and so many countries involved. When JFK Jr's plane went down, there was not all this fuss and bother. There's more to this story and eventually it will come out.

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3 replies
CherMoeLin April 13 2014 at 8:11 AM

I don't know how they could mistake the last words from the airplane. "Good night, alright" is a heck of a lot different from "Good Night, Malaysia Flight 370." I think people should be outraged over this government/corporate charade. The people who took the plane need to be prosecuted. Too many people being "disappeared" in this modern day and age. I feel so terrible for the families of this victims of this hijacking. All evidence points to the plane being taken, in my opinion. There is a MASSIVE cover-up going on here.

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2 replies
LINDA CherMoeLin April 13 2014 at 8:17 AM

i agree 100%

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ffishb CherMoeLin April 13 2014 at 9:52 AM

Hummmmm...can you give ANY clue on how to prosectute a dead person? Really, inquiring minds want to know

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MrsJaz April 11 2014 at 2:24 PM

My heart goes out to all involved. I could not imagine having a loved one on that flight and not knowing what happened to them. Thanks and blessings to all who are working to help solve this mystery.

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zoya79 April 10 2014 at 2:30 PM

So dragged out and nothing new. The poor families and what they have to endure.

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1 reply
John zoya79 April 13 2014 at 4:42 PM

I agreed and it did not register. But so true. The poor families of the lost ones.

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jojo April 11 2014 at 12:11 PM

Went accross Indian Ocean on a 89,000 ton aircraftcarrier [USS America/1970] had to close hanger doors and hold on for dear live as waves pounded the ship ! Escort destoyers turned around said "your on your own" ! Very angry body of water!!!!!!!!

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1 reply
Karine jojo April 11 2014 at 2:15 PM

Thanks so much for posting this .. It really chaps my hide when I read some of the comments here from folks that don't have a friggin clue whats really involved here... Again thank you !

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3 replies
Hello Dear!! April 11 2014 at 8:56 AM

This tragic event is on it's way to giving some closure and possible answers. Now, here's my concern: we, the oldest Baby Boomers, need larger print on the internet!!!! A bump up in font would be appreciated==there are literally millions of'us' that would stand with me!! Be the first, AOL, to listen and get with the program!

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1 reply
Patty Du Hello Dear!! April 11 2014 at 11:31 AM

Hey Hello Dear!! You can enlarge the font size simply by your keyboard control button and rolling upward ... the font size will enlarge

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1 reply
hccbillandpat Patty Du April 13 2014 at 12:06 PM

where the heck is the keyboard control button?

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layhsw22630 April 10 2014 at 2:13 PM

This story has been told so many different ways it is all speculation at this point as to what really happened to Malaysian # 370. People want to assume the worse of others and put it all out there for all to hear, even the families. Could you imagine the horror of what their loved ones must have gone through even one tiny bit? Probably not. We should be giving love and support to the families until the truth comes out.

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almmj April 10 2014 at 2:21 PM

It is so sad for the families however, by not finding the plane, there is hope.....if they find the plane at the bottom of the ocean, that is when the true grief sets in....

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1 reply
sallysunbury almmj April 10 2014 at 2:56 PM

On the other hand, if the plane is found, it will put to bed all the speculation that the plane is hidden somewhere being refitted to drop a nuclear weapon on a metropolitan area. But either way, there is not much likelihood that any passengers are still among us.

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