Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says searchers are
"hopeful but by no means certain" that a pulse signal
reportedly detected by a Chinese ship in the Indian Ocean is
related to a Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing for four
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that a patrol
vessel hunting for Flight MH370 had picked up a "ping" on
Saturday, raising hopes that it could be from the underwater
beacon of the plane's "black box" voice and data recorders.
Australian search authorities said such a signal would be
consistent with a black box, but both they and Xinhua
stressed there was no conclusive evidence linking it to the
Boeing 777 that went missing on March 8 with 239 people
aboard shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for
"This is the most difficult search in human history. We are
searching for an aircraft which is at the bottom of a very
deep ocean and it is a very, very wide search area," Abbott
told reporters in Tokyo, where he is on a visit.
"We need to be very careful about coming to hard and fast
conclusions too soon."
Up to a dozen planes and 13 ships will be scouring three
separate areas about 2,000 km (1,240 miles) northwest of
Perth, Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre said on
A black box detector deployed by Chinese vessel Haixun 01
picked up the "ping" signal with a frequency of 37.5kHz per
second - the same as emitted by flight recorders - at about
25 degrees south and 101 degrees east, Xinhua said.
"The 37.5kHz is the specific frequency that these locator
pingers operate on," said Anish Patel, president of Sarasota,
Florida-based Dukane Seacom, which made the black box
"It's a very unique frequency, typically not found in
background ocean noise," such as whales or other marine
mammals, he told Reuters.
Xinhua also reported that a Chinese air force plane had
spotted a number of white floating objects in the search
"The characteristics reported (by the Chinese vessel) are
consistent with the aircraft black box," Retired Air Chief
Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency
coordinating the operation, said in a statement.
"However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the
signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft,"
he said, adding his agency was seeking more information from
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause
of the plane's disappearance, but say the evidence, including
loss of communications, suggests it was deliberately diverted
thousands of kilometres from its set route.
Dozens of flights by a multinational taskforce have failed to
turn up any trace of the plane in the past four weeks.
It was briefly picked up on military radar west of Malaysia
and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic "handshakes"
exchanged with a satellite led investigators to conclude the
plane had crashed far off the west Australian coast hours
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism,
particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and
holding back information. Most of the 227 passengers were
Malaysia said on Saturday it had launched a formal
investigation into the plane's disappearance that would
include experts from Australia, the United States, China,
Britain and France.
Normally, a formal air safety investigation is not launched
until wreckage is found. But there have been concerns that
Malaysia's informal investigations to date have lacked the
legal standing of an official inquiry convened under U.N.
Under International Civil Aviation Organisation rules, the
country where the aircraft is registered leads the
investigation when the incident takes place in international
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the
investigation would comprise three groups: one would examine
maintenance records, structures and systems; an "operations"
group would study flight recorders, operations and
meteorology; and a "medical and human factors" group would
look into psychology, pathology and survival.