Ship hunts for more ‘pings’ in Malaysia jet search

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In this April 7, 2014 photo provided by the Australian Defense Force a fast response craft manned by members from the Australian Defense’s ship Ocean Shield is deployed to scan the water for debris of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 77, 580 square kilometers (29,954 square miles) of ocean, 2,270 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, Australia. (AP Photo/Australia Defense Force, LSIS Bradley Darvill) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

In this April 7, 2014 photo provided by the Australian Defense Force a fast response craft manned by members from the Australian Defense’s ship Ocean Shield is deployed to scan the water for debris of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 77, 580 square kilometers (29,954 square miles) of ocean, 2,270 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, Australia. (AP Photo/Australia Defense Force, LSIS Bradley Darvill) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

In this April 7, 2014 photo provided by the Australian Defense Force Able Seaman Clearance Divers Matthew Johnston, right, and Michael Arnold, from the Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield, scan the water for debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 77, 580 square kilometers (29,954 square miles) of ocean, 2,270 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, Australia. (AP Photo/Australian Defense Force, Lt. Ryan Davis) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion taxies along the tarmac at RAAF Base Pearce as it arrives back from the on-going search operations for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Perth, Australia, Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Search crews have failed to relocate faint sounds heard deep in the Indian Ocean, possibly from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s black boxes whose batteries are at the end of their life. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

In this April 7, 2014 photo provided by the Australian Defense Force Able Seaman Clearance Diver Michael Arnold is towed by a fast response craft from the Australian Defense’s ship Ocean Shield as he scans the water for debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 77, 580 square kilometers (29,954 square miles) of ocean, 2,270 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, Australia. (AP Photo/Australian Defense Force, Lt. Ryan Davis) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

In this April 7, 2014 photo provided by the Australian Defense Force, a fast response craft manned by members from the Australian Defense’s ship Ocean Shield tows Able Seaman Clearance Diver Michael Arnold as they scan the water for debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 77, 580 square kilometers (29,954 square miles) of ocean, 2,270 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, Australia. (AP Photo/Australian Defense Force, LSIS Bradley Darvill) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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PERTH, Australia (AP) — Search crews have failed to relocate faint sounds heard deep in the Indian Ocean, possibly from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s black boxes whose batteries are at the end of their life.

Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal who is heading the search far off western Australia, said listening equipment on the Ocean Shield has picked up no trace of the signals since they were first heard late Saturday and early Sunday. The signals had sparked hopes of a breakthrough in the search for Flight 370.

Finding the black boxes quickly is critical, because their locator beacons have a battery life of only about a month — and Tuesday marks exactly one month since the plane vanished. Once the beacons blink off, locating the black boxes in such deep water would be an immensely difficult, if not impossible, task.

“There have been no further contacts with any transmission and we need to continue (searching) for several days right up to the point at which there’s absolutely no doubt that the batteries will have expired,” Houston said.

If, by that point, the U.S. Navy listening equipment being towed behind the Ocean Shield has failed to pick up any signals, a submarine will be deployed to try to chart out any debris on the seafloor. If the sub maps out a debris field, the crew will replace its sonar system with a camera unit to photograph any wreckage.

Earlier, Australia’s acting prime minister, Warren Truss, had said the Bluefin 21 autonomous sub would be launched on Tuesday, but a spokesman for Truss said later the conflicting information was a misunderstanding, and Truss acknowledged the sub was not being used immediately.

The two distinct sounds heard late Saturday and early Sunday are consistent with the pings from an aircraft’s black boxes, Houston said.

Defense Minister David Johnston called it the most positive lead and said it was being pursued vigorously. Still, officials warned it could take days to determine whether the sounds were connected to the plane that vanished March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 on board.

“This is an herculean task — it’s over a very, very wide area, the water is extremely deep,” Johnston said. “We have at least several days of intense action ahead of us.”

Houston said finding the sound again was critical to narrowing the search area before the sub can be used. If the vehicle went down now with the sparse data collected so far, it would take “many, many days” for it

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