Seamen aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Perth look
towards the HMAS Success during manoeuvres as they continue
to search for the missing airliner. REUTERS/Australian
A new acoustic signal has been detected in the hunt for
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, further boosting confidence
that officials are zeroing in on the missing plane after weeks
The signal, which could be from the plane's black box
recorders, brings to five the number of "pings" detected in
recent days within the search area in the Indian Ocean.
The first four signals were detected by a US Navy "Towed
Pinger Locator" (TPL) aboard Australia's Ocean Shield vessel,
while the latest was reported by an aircraft picking up
transmissions from a listening device buoy laid near the ship
"Whilst conducting an acoustic search this afternoon a RAAF
AP-3C Orion aircraft has detected a possible signal in the
vicinity of the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield,"
Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency co-ordinating
the search, said in a statement.
The data would require further analysis overnight but it
showed the potential of being from a "man-made source", he
The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which
disappeared more than a month ago, has sparked the most
expensive search and rescue operation in aviation history,
but concrete information has proven frustratingly illusive.
The black boxes record cockpit data and may provide answers
about what happened to the plane, which was carrying 227
passengers and 12 crew when it vanished on March 8 and flew
thousands of kilometres off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing
But the batteries in the black boxes have already reached the
end of their 30-day expected life, making efforts to swiftly
locate them on the murky ocean floor all the more critical.
"We are still a long way to go, but things are more positive
than they were some time ago," Martin Dolan, chief
commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Board, which
is involved in the search mission, told Reuters.
NARROWING THE SEARCH AREA
Up to 10 military aircraft, four civil aircraft and 13 ships
are involved in the search effort that has proven fruitless
in identifying any physical evidence of wreckage from the
Efforts are now focused on two areas - a larger one for
aircraft and ships about 2240km northwest of Perth and a
smaller area about 600km closer to that west Australian city.
The smaller zone is around where the Ocean Shield picked up
the acoustic signals and where dozens of acoustic sonobuoys
were dropped on Wednesday.
Each of the sonobuoys is equipped with a listening device
called a hydrophone, which is dangled about 305 metres below
the surface and is capable of transmitting data to search
aircraft via radio signals.
"That does provide a lot of sensors in the vicinity of the
Ocean Shield without having a ship there to produce the
background noise," said Australian Navy Commodore Peter
Leavy, operational head of the Australian search.
But experts say the process of teasing out the signals from
the cacophony of background noise in the sea is a slow and
exhausting process. Operators must separate a ping lasting
just 9.3 milliseconds - a tenth of the blink of a human eye -
and repeated every 1.08 seconds from natural ocean sounds, as
well as disturbances from search vessels.
An autonomous underwater vehicle named Bluefin-21 is also
onboard the Ocean Shield, and it could be deployed to look
for wreckage on the sea floor once the final search area has
been positively identified.
As with so many things in this unprecedented search effort,
experts say that will not be easy.
"Working near the bottom of the ocean is very challenging
because this is uncharted territory; nobody has been down
there before," Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the
University of New South Wales, told Reuters.