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New possible sound detected in hunt for lost jet

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A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon takes off from Perth Airport on route to rejoin the on-going search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in Perth, Australia, Thursday, April 10, 2014. Planes and ships hunting for the missing Malaysian jetliner zeroed in on a targeted patch of the Indian Ocean on Thursday, after a navy ship picked up underwater signals that are consistent with a plane’s black box. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon takes off from Perth Airport on route to rejoin the on-going search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in Perth, Australia, Thursday, April 10, 2014. Planes and ships hunting for the missing Malaysian jetliner zeroed in on a targeted patch of the Indian Ocean on Thursday, after a navy ship picked up underwater signals that are consistent with a plane’s black box. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon taxies along the runway before it takes off from Perth Airport on route to rejoin the on-going search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in Perth, Australia, Thursday, April 10, 2014. Planes and ships hunting for the missing Malaysian jetliner zeroed in on a targeted patch of the Indian Ocean on Thursday, after a navy ship picked up underwater signals that are consistent with a plane’s black box. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

In this April 9, 2014 photo provided by the Australian Defense Force, a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion flies past Australian Defense vessel Ocean Shield on a mission to drop sonar buoys to assist in the acoustic search of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. The ship searching for the missing Malaysian jet has detected two more underwater signals that may be emanating from the aircraft’s black boxes, and the Australian official in charge of the search expressed hope Wednesday that the plane’s wreckage will soon be found. (AP Photo/Australian Defense Force, LSIS Bradley Darvill) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

This image provided by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, shows a map indicating the locations of signals detected by vessels looking for signs of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. An Australian official overseeing the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane said underwater sounds picked up by equipment on an Australian navy ship are consistent with transmissions from black box recorders on a plane. (AP Photo/Joint Agency Coordination Centre) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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PERTH, Australia (AP) — An Australian aircraft hunting for the missing Malaysian jet picked up a new possible underwater signal on Thursday in the same area search crews previously detected sounds that were consistent with an aircraft’s black boxes.

The Australian navy P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sound-locating buoys into the water near where the original sounds were heard, picked up a “possible signal” that may be from a man-made source, said Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search off Australia’s west coast.

“The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight,” Houston said in a statement.

If confirmed, this would be the fifth underwater signal detected in the hunt for Flight 370, which vanished on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, with 239 people aboard.

On Tuesday, the Australian vessel Ocean Shield picked up two underwater sounds, and an analysis of two other sounds detected in the same general area on Saturday showed they were consistent with a plane’s flight recorders, or “black boxes.”

The Australian navy has been dropping buoys from planes in a pattern near where the Ocean Shield’s signals were heard.

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy is dangling a hydrophone listening device about 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the surface. The hope, he said, is that the buoys will help better pinpoint the signals, along with the Ocean Shield, which is slowly dragging a U.S. navy pinger locator through the water.

Zeroing in on the source of the sounds is critical to narrowing down the underwater search zone, which is currently a 1,300 square kilometer (500 square mile) patch of the ocean floor. Once the exact location is pinpointed, crews can send an unmanned submarine into the ocean’s depths to create a sonar map of a potential debris field on the seabed.

The Bluefin 21 sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as the pinger locator, and it would take the vehicle about six weeks to two months to canvass the underwater search zone, which is about the size of Los Angeles. That’s why the acoustic equipment is still being used to hone in on a more precise location, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said.

Meanwhile, a hunt for debris on the ocean surface intensified Thursday, with the search zone narrowed to its smallest size yet — 57,900 square kilometers (22,300 square miles), or about one-quarter the size it was a few days ago. Fourteen planes and 13 ships were taking part in the hunt for floating debris, about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth.

A “large number of objects” had been spotted by crews combing the area for floating debris on Wednesday, but the few that had been retrieved by search vessels were not believed to be related to the missing plane, the search coordination center said.

Crews hunting for debris on the surface have already looked in the area they were crisscrossing on Thursday, but were moving in tighter patterns, now that the search zone has been narrowed to about a quarter the size it was a few days ago, Houston said.

Houston has expressed optimism about the sounds detected earlier in the week, saying on Wednesday that he was hopeful crews would find the aircraft — or what’s left of it — in the “not-too-distant future.”

Finding the flight data and cockpit voice recorders soon is important because their locator beacons have a battery life of about a month, and Tuesday

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