The U.S. Navy "towed pinger locator" connected to the Australian
ship Ocean Shield picked up the signals in an area some 1,680 km
(1,040 miles) northwest of Perth, which analysis of sporadic
satellite data has determined as the most likely place Boeing 777
"I'm much more optimistic than I was a week ago," Angus Houston,
head of the Australian agency coordinating the search, told a news
conference in Perth in western Australia, while cautioning that
wreckage needed to be found for a confirmation.
"We are now in a very well defined search area, which hopefully will
eventually yield the information that we need to say that MH370
might have entered the water just here."
If the signals can be narrowed further, an autonomous underwater
vehicle called a Bluefin 21, will be sent to find wreckage on the
sea floor to verify the signals, said Houston, who noted that the
potential search area was 4.5 km (2.8 miles) deep, the same as the
The black boxes record cockpit data and may provide answers about
what happened to the Malaysia Airlines plane, which was carrying 227
passengers and 12 crew when it vanished off radar on March 8 and
flew thousands of kilometres off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route.
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause of the
plane's disappearance but say evidence, including loss of
communications, suggests it was deliberately diverted.
Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, told
reporters in Kuala Lumpur he was "cautiously hopeful" that the
signals picked up would lead to a positive finding soon.
"I am more optimistic than some of the leads we have had. This is
something much more positive than others," he said.
The first "ping" signal detection was held for more than two hours
before the Ocean Shield lost contact, but the ship was able to pick
up a signal again for about 13 minutes, Houston said.
"On this occasion two distinct pinger returns were audible.
Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both
the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder," he said.
AT EDGE OF SEARCH CAPABILITY
The black boxes, thought be to lying on the ocean floor, are
equipped with locator beacons that send pings but the beacons'
batteries are thought to be running out of charge by now, a month
after Flight MH370 disappeared.
"We are right on the edge of capability and we might be limited on
capability if the aircraft ended up in deeper water. In very deep
oceanic water, nothing happens fast," said Houston.
"This is not the end of the search. We still have got difficult,
painstaking work to do to confirm that this is indeed where the
aircraft entered the water."
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Alec Duncan, expert in underwater acoustics at Curtin University's
Centre for Marine Science and Technology said the lead was promising
but impossible to verify without confirmed wreckage from the
"It's a difficult business, operating underwater and trying to
detect anything in the sort of water depth that this search involves,
and it's impossible to be 100 percent sure of anything until the
wreckage is actually on the deck of the ship," he told the
Australian Broadcasting Corp.
A second search area was being maintained in waters where a Chinese
vessel had also picked up "ping" signals at the weekend in an area
more than 300 nautical miles from the latest signals.
Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 reported receiving a pulse signal with
a frequency of 37.5 kHz, consistent with the signal emitted by
flight recorders, on Friday and again on Saturday.
Houston said the Chinese and Australian discoveries of pings were
consistent with work done on analysing radar and satellite data but
the Ocean Shield's leads were now the most promising.
Houston on Sunday said he was comfortable with the level of
cooperation between search countries, following criticism that
Australia only became aware of the Chinese find at the same time as
the Xinhua state news agency filed a story from a reporter on board
"I'm very satisfied with the consultation, the coordination that we
are building with our Chinese friends," Houston said.
However, he added that language was sometimes an issue and he had
arranged for a Chinese liaison officer to join the Australian-led
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from
China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information. Most
of the 227 passengers were Chinese.
(Additional reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney and Anuradha Raghu
in Kuala Lumpur; editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)
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