Possible signals from lost jet’s black boxes heard

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People offer prayers during a mass prayer for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet says that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

People offer prayers during a mass prayer for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet says that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

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Retired Australian Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston speaks to the media during a press conference about the ongoing search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Perth, Australia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. Houston, the head of the multinational search, confirmed that a Chinese ship had picked up electronic pulsing signals twice in a small patch of the search zone, once on Friday and again on Saturday, but he stressed the signals had not been verified as linked to the missing plane. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

A woman holding a LED candle offers prayers for passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet said that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

In this image taken from video, a member of a Chinese search team uses an instrument to detect electronic pulses while searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, on board the patrol vessel Haixun 01, in the search area in the southern Indian Ocean, Saturday, April 5, 2014. China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported late Saturday that the patrol vessel Haixun 01 had detected a “pulse signal” at 37.5 kilohertz (cycles per second) – the same frequency emitted by flight data recorders aboard the missing plane – in the search area in the southern Indian Ocean. But retired Australian Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston stressed the two electronic pulses that the Chinese ship reported detecting on Friday and Saturday had not been verified as connected to the missing jet. (AP Photo/CCTV via AP Video)

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PERTH, Australia (AP) — U.S. Navy equipment has picked up signals consistent with the pings from aircraft black boxes, an Australian search official said Monday, describing the discovery as “a most promising lead” in the month-long hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search in the southern Indian Ocean, called it “very encouraging” but warned it may take days to confirm whether signals picked up by the ship Ocean Shield are indeed from the flight recorders on Flight 370.

“Clearly this is a most promising lead, and probably in the search so far, it’s the probably the best information that we have had,” Houston said at a news conference.

The Australian navy’s Ocean Shield, which is carrying high-tech sound detectors from the U.S. Navy, picked up two separate signals within a remote patch of the Indian Ocean far off the west Australian coast that search crews have been crisscrossing for weeks. The first signal lasted two hours and 20 minutes before it was lost. The ship then turned around and picked up a signal again — this time recording two distinct “pinger returns” that lasted 13 minutes, Houston said.

“Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder,” Houston said.

He said the position of the noise needs to be further refined, and then an underwater autonomous vehicle can be sent in to investigate.

“It could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH370,” Houston said. “In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast.”

After a month-long hunt for answers filled with dead ends, Monday’s news brought fresh hope. The two black boxes, which contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings, are the key to unraveling exactly what happened to Flight 370 and why.

But there is little time left to find the devices, which contain critical flight data and cockpit voice recordings that could help investigators unravel exactly what happened on board Flight 370. The devices have beacons that emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the beacons’ batteries last only about a month. Tuesday marks exactly one month since the plane disappeared.

The plane vanished March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board, setting off an international search that started off Vietnam and then shifted to the southern Indian Ocean as information from radar and satellite data was refined.

The length of the search and lack of any information on the cause of the plane to go so far off course has transfixed the world.

If the Ocean Shield manages to pick up the signal again, the crew will launch a Bluefin-21 autonomous sub that can dive to about 4,500 meters (14,800 feet), and scan for wreckage. Given the fact that the sea floor in the area is approximately 4,500 meters — and even deeper in some spots — the sub will be operating to the limits of its capability, Houston said.

Houston cautioned that it was too early to say the transmissions were coming from the black boxes on the missing passenger jet.

“I would want more confirmation before we say this is it,” he said. “Without wreckage, we can’t say

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