Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Australian Officials ‘Very Close’ to Finding Wreckage
Australian authorities leading the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane reported they may be “very close” to locating the site of the wreckage after the Royal Australian Navy picked up signals that could be coming from the ill-fated aircraft’s flight recorders.
During a search Sunday by the naval ship Ocean Shield, two separate and distinct “pinger” signals were detected in an area 1,040 miles (1,680 kilometers) northwest of Perth, which the most recent analysis of satellite data has shown is the most likely place the jet went down. The first signal was held for more than two hours, according to Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the chief coordinator of Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is managing the search for the missing plane, told reporters. On the ship’s return voyage to port, detection equipment on board picked up the two signals, where were held for approximately 13 minutes.
The two separate signals “would be consistent with transmission from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder,” said Air Chief Marshal Houston. “Clearly, this is a most promising lead and probably in the search so far. The audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon.”
At the end of March, the Ocean Shield was fitted with U.S. Navy black-box detector equipment that is capable of picking up signals emanating from well below the ocean surface as well as a Bluefin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle that has not yet been put to use.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said that searchers would have to determine a more precise location before deploying the underwater vehicle. The area where the pings are thought to come from is some 4,500 meters (14,764 feet) deep, he noted, and the Bluefin 21 cannot operate in depths of more than 15,000 feet. If the location were determined to be in a deeper area, options include dropping cameras to the ocean floor or using other types of submersibles.
As always, authorities were careful not to raise false hopes. “I would not be prepared to confirm that this is the spot where the aircraft is on the present evidence,” said the air chief marshal. “Without wreckage, we can’t say it’s definitely here. We have to go down and look.”
(Photo: Chris Finney)