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.
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
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.
NARROWING SEARCH AREA
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".
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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
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
(Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington;
Lincoln Feast, Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)
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