Search picks up new underwater signal in jet hunt

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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)

A woman ties a message card for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 at a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, April 10, 2014. With hopes high that search crews are zeroing in on the missing Malaysian jetliner’s crash site, ships and planes hunting for the aircraft intensified their efforts Thursday after equipment picked up sounds consistent with a plane’s black box in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean. (AP Photo)

Spectators take photos of a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft as it comes in for a landing at Perth International Airport after returning from the ongoing search operations for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in Perth, Australia, Thursday, April 10, 2014. With hopes high that search crews are zeroing in on the missing Malaysian jetliner’s crash site, ships and planes hunting for the aircraft intensified their efforts Thursday after equipment picked up sounds consistent with a plane’s black box in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

A couple is silhouetted as they watch a Malaysia Airlines plane on the tarmac from the viewing gallery at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Thursday, April 10, 2014. With hopes high that search crews are zeroing in on the missing Malaysian jetliner’s crash site, ships and planes hunting for the aircraft intensified their search efforts on Thursday after equipment picked up sounds consistent with a plane’s black box in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

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PERTH, Australia (AP) — An Australian aircraft hunting for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet picked up a new underwater signal Thursday while searching the same part of the Indian Ocean where earlier sounds were detected that were consistent with an aircraft’s black boxes.

The Australian air force 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, it 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 air force has been dropping buoys from the P-3 Orion to better pinpoint the location of the sounds detected by the Ocean Shield.

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy is dangling a hydrophone listening device about 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the surface. Each buoy transmits its data via radio back to the plane.

The underwater search zone is currently a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) patch of the ocean floor, and narrowing the area as much as possible is crucial before an unmanned submarine can be sent 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 being towed by the Ocean Shield, 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.

The search for floating debris on the ocean surface was narrowed Thursday 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 looking for floating debris, about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth.

A “large number of objects” were spotted 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

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