'Pings' detected are best lead yet in Malaysia jet search

Last Updated 07 April 2014, 12:50 IST

An Australian naval ship hunting for the missing Malaysian jet has detected fresh underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes in what officials today said was the "most promising lead" yet, raising hopes of solving the unprecedented month-long aviation mystery.

Australian defence vessel Ocean Shield has detected signals consistent with those from aircraft black boxes twice, once for more than two hours in the Indian Ocean, said Air Chief Marshal (retd) Angus Houston, the head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) which is leading the search.

"This is the most promising lead, probably in the search so far, it's probably the best information we've had," he said.

"Two separate signal detections have occurred within the northern part of the defined search area. The first detection was held for approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes. The ship then lost contact before conducting a turn and attempting to re-acquire the signal," Houston said.

"The second detection on the return leg was held for approximately 13 minutes. On this occasion, two distinct pinger returns were audible," he said, adding that the sounds were heard at a depth of 4,500 metres.

"We've got a visual indication on a screen, and we've also got an audible signal. And the audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon," he said.

Houston's remarks came only a few hours before the pingers stop transmitting the signals as the batteries inside the beacons, which are designed to start sending signals when a plane crashes into water, last about 30 days after it is activated.

However, it could take days before officials can confirm whether the signals did indeed come from the plane, which fell off the radar on March 8 with 239 people, including five Indians on board.

"In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast. I would ask all of you to treat this information cautiously and responsibly...We haven't found the aircraft yet. We are encouraged that we are very close to where we need to be," Houston said.

Finding the black box is crucial to know what happened on March 8 before the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 Flight MH370 disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Houston said the position of the signals would need to be fixed before an autonomous underwater vehicle 'Blue Fin 21' could be deployed to locate the wreckage. Meanwhile, Malaysia today said it is "cautiously hopeful" of positive developments in the MH370 search after the latest detections of two signals.

"We are cautiously hopeful there would be positive development in days if not hours," Malaysia's acting transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.Hishamuddin described the latest detection of signals as a "significant" lead and said there were still many steps before "we can verify if they are from MH."

"New developments in the past few hours are positive developments," he said. The minister said that unless some of the leads were corroborated and qualified "we are on a roller coaster ride".

Asked who would have control over the black box when found, Hishamuddin said he had spoken to the country's Attorney General on the issue and Malaysia would follow International Civil Aviation Organisation practices. "Focus is to find black box first," he said.

Hishamuddin said the leads did not show survivors but miracles could happen. He said he would continue to hope and pray for survivors.

Responding to reports that the plane could have skirted around Indonesia, the minister said Malaysian Defence minister had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart and Jakarta had confirmed no sightings.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Jauhari Yahya said the incident had affected the airline. "We have a lot of work to do," he said. Jauhari said it could take an airline six months to recover market goodwill and stressed that "we want to do it earlier."

The HMS Echo, a British navy ship equipped with advanced detection gear, sailed into the area of the southern Indian Ocean this morning where a Chinese crew had detected the two audio signals.

Australian navy vessel carrying sophisticated US listening technology is investigating a sound it picked up in a different patch of the ocean.

"Ocean Shield remains in the immediate area and continues to try and regain contact with the towed pinger locator. To this point, it has not been able to re-acquire the signals. There are many steps yet before these detections can be positively verified as being from missing Flight MH370," Houston said.

The area is also "the limit of capability of the autonomous underwater vehicle," he said."Work continues by the Ocean shield to refine the ping detection location. We will continue to follow a methodical and carefully plan process of investigation to verfiy or discount (the signals from MH370)," he said.

Meanwhile, Joint Agency Coordintion Centre said in a statement that upto nine military planes, three civil planes and 14 ships were part today's search for the plane. The search area was covered was approximately 234,000 square kilometres.

The mystery of the missing plane continued to baffle aviation and security authorities who have so far failed to trace the aircraft despite deploying hi-tech radar and other gadgets.

(Published 07 April 2014, 12:49 IST)

Follow us on