Signals fading in search for missing Malaysian flight

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Signals fading in search for missing Malaysian flight
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10 : A handout image released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Canberra, Australia, 10 April 2014, shows the search area in the Indian Ocean, West of Australia, where 14 planes and 13 ships are scouring a 57,923 square km area of ocean for the wreckage of flight MH370 on 10 April 2014. Flight MH370 went missing after losing radio contact with Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control after leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8. The Beijing-bound flight carried 239 passengers including 12 flight crew from 14 different countries. (Photo by AMSA/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Angus Houston (2nd-L), head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 speaks at a media conference in Perth on April 9, 2014. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 08: Defence Minister David Johnston (R) responds to a reporters question together with Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (Ret'd) during a press conference over the continuing search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at RAAF Base Pearce on April 8, 2014 in Perth, Australia. ACM Angus Houston advised the towed pinger by ADV Ocean Shield is still trying to re-locate the signals previously detected, which were believed to be consistent with aircraft black boxes. The airliner disappeared on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board and is suspected to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
A Chinese relative (R) of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 holds a candle as she takes part in a prayer service at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. The hunt for physical evidence that the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago has turned up nothing, despite a massive operation involving seven countries and repeated sightings of suspected debris. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, points to a graphic of the search area during a media conference in Perth on April 7, 2014. An Australian navy ship has detected new underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes, Houston said on April 7, describing it as the 'most promising lead' so far in the month-old hunt for missing Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

(Reuters) - The search for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner resumed on Saturday, five weeks after the plane disappeared from radar screens, amid fears that batteries powering signals from the black box recorder on board were about to die.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said signals picked up during the search in the remote southern Indian Ocean, believed to be "pings" from the black box recorders, were "rapidly fading".

"While we do have a high degree of confidence that the transmissions that we've been picking up are from flight MH370's black box recorder, no one would underestimate the difficulties of the task still ahead of us," Abbott told a news conference in Beijing.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared soon after taking off on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, triggering a multinational search that is now focused on the Indian Ocean.

Search officials say they are confident they know the approximate position of the black box recorder, although they have determined that the latest "ping", picked up by searchers on Thursday, was not from the missing aircraft.

Batteries in the black box recorder are already past their normal 30-day life, making the search to find it on the murky sea bed all the more urgent. Once searchers are confident they have located it, they then plan to deploy a small unmanned "robot" known as an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle.

"Work continues in an effort to narrow the underwater search area for when the autonomous underwater vehicle is deployed," the Australian agency coordinating the search said on Saturday.

"There have been no confirmed acoustic detections over the past 24 hours," it said in a statement.

Signal From Missing Plane's Black Boxes 'Rapidly Fading'

The black box records data from the cockpit and conversations among flight crew and may provide answers about what happened to the plane, which flew thousands of kilometers off course after taking off.

The mystery has sparked the most expensive search and rescue operation in aviation history.

Malaysia's government has begun investigating civil aviation and military authorities to determine why opportunities to identify and track the flight were missed in the chaotic hours after it vanished.


Analysis of satellite data has led investigators to conclude the Boeing 777 crashed into the ocean somewhere west of the Australian city of Perth. Four "ping" signals, which could be from the plane's black box recorders, have been detected in the search area in recent days by a U.S. Navy "Towed Pinger Locator".

Once the search area is narrowed down to as small as possible "it is our intention to then deploy the submersible, conduct a sonar search of the sea bed and, based on the sonar search, attempt to get a visual of the wreckage," Abbott said.

The U.S. supply ship USNS Cesar Chavez has joined the Australian-led task force to provide logistics support and replenish Australian navy ships, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Up to nine military aircraft, one civilian aircraft and 14 ships were scouring a 41,393 sq km (25,720 sq mile) patch of ocean 2,330 km (1,445 miles) northwest of Perth.

The extensive search and rescue operation has included assets from 26 countries.

Australia's Ocean Shield, which has the towed pinger locator on board, is operating in a smaller zone, just 600 sq km (232 sq miles) about 1,670 km (1,040 miles) northwest of Perth. That is near where it picked up the acoustic signals and where dozens of sonobuoys capable of transmitting data to search aircraft via radio signals were dropped on Wednesday.

Experts say the process of teasing out the signals from the cacophony of background noise in the sea is slow and exhausting.

An unmanned submarine named Bluefin-21 is on board the Ocean Shield and could be deployed to look for wreckage on the sea floor some 4.5 km (2.8 miles) below the surface once a final search area has been identified.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)
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