KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press
NICK PERRY, Associated Press
PERTH, Australia (AP)
— After a navy ship heard more signals from deep in the Indian Ocean,
the head of the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner said Wednesday
he believes the hunt is closing in on the "final resting place" of
The Australian vessel Ocean Shield picked up two
signals Tuesday, and an analysis of two other sounds detected Saturday
showed they were consistent with a plane's flight recorders, or "black
boxes," said Angus Houston, the Australian official coordinating the
search for the Malaysian Airlines jet.
"I'm now optimistic that we
will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the
not-too-distant future," Houston said. "But we haven't found it yet,
because this is a very challenging business."
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 marked one
month since Flight 370 vanished March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people aboard.
If the batteries fail
before the recorders are located, finding them in such deep water —
about 4,500 meters, or 15,000 feet — would be difficult, if not
"I believe we are searching in the right area, but we
need to visually identify aircraft wreckage before we can confirm with
certainty that this is the final resting place of MH370," Houston said.
"For the sake of the 239 families, this is absolutely imperative."
hope expressed by Houston contrasted with the frustrating monthlong
search for the Boeing 777, which disappeared shortly after takeoff in
one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history. The plane veered
off-course for an unknown reason, with officials saying that satellite
data indicates it went down in the southern Indian Ocean off the coast
of western Australia. The black boxes could help solve that mystery.
signals detected 1,645 kilometers (1,020 miles) northwest of Perth by
the Ocean Shield's towed ping locators are the strongest indication yet
that the plane crashed and is now at the bottom of the ocean in the area
where the search is now focused.
A data analysis of the signals heard Saturday determined they were distinct, man-made and pulsed consistently, Houston said.
"They believe the signals to be consistent with the specification and description of a flight data recorder," he said.
To assist the Ocean Shield, the Australian navy dropped buoys by parachute in a pattern near where the signals were last heard.
Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy will dangle a
hydrophone listening device about 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the
surface. The hope, he said, is the buoys will help better pinpoint the
Houston acknowledged searchers were running out of time,
noting the last two signals were weaker and briefer than the first pair
heard Saturday, suggesting the batteries are failing. One lasted two
hours and 20 minutes and the second lasted 13 minutes; those heard
Tuesday lasted just 5 1/2 minutes and 7 minutes.
"So we need to, as we say in Australia, 'make hay while the sun shines,'" Houston said.
weakening of the signals also could indicate the device was farther
away, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said. Temperature, water pressure or
the saltiness of the sea could also be factors.
Leavy said thick silt on the ocean floor also could distort the sounds and may hide wreckage from the eventual visual search.
said a decision had not yet been made on how long to use the towed ping
locator while knowing the beacons' batteries will likely fail soon,
saying only that a decision to deploy an unmanned submarine in the
search was "not far away."
"Hopefully in a matter of days, we will
be able to find something on the bottom that might confirm that this is
the last resting place of MH370," he said.
When the ping
locator's use is exhausted, the unmanned sub will 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 ping locator.
said the detections indicate the beacon is within about a 20-kilometer
(12-mile) radius, equal to a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile)
chunk of the ocean floor.
That's like trying to find a desktop
computer in a city the size of Los Angeles and would take the sub about
six weeks to two months to canvass. So it makes more sense to continue
using the ping locator to zero in on a more precise location, Matthews
The Bluefin sub's sonar scans about to 100 meters and can
"see" with lights and cameras only a few meters. Its maximum dive depth
is 4,500 meters, and some areas of the search zone are deeper.
audio search was narrowed to its current position after engineers
predicted a flight path by analyzing signals between the plane and a
satellite and investigators used radar data to determine the plane's
speed and where it may have run out of fuel.
Houston noted that
all four of the pings detected since Saturday were near the site of a
final, partial "handshake" signal revealed earlier in the investigation.
also noted the surface search for any floating debris has been adjusted
and intensified based on where the four pings were heard and where
ocean currents might have caused objects to drift. Fifteen planes and 14
ships searched a 75,400-square-kilometer area that extends from 2,250
kilometers northwest of Perth on Wednesday.
Despite the challenges, those involved in the hunt were buoyed by the Ocean Shield's findings.
an engineer so I don't talk emotions too much," Matthews said. "But
certainly when I received word that they had another detection, you feel
elated. You're hopeful that you can locate the final resting place of
the aircraft and bring closure to all the families involved."
Gelineau reported from Sydney. Associated Press Writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.