New 'pings' stoke optimism for Malaysia plane hunt

SYDNEY/PERTH, Australia Thu Apr 10, 2014 7:31am EDT

1 of 2. Gunner Richard Brown (L) of Transit Security Element looks through binoculars as he stands on lookout with other crew members aboard the Australian Navy ship HMAS Perth as they continue to search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Australian Defence Force/Handout via Reuters

SYDNEY/PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - A new acoustic signal was detected in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on Thursday, further boosting confidence that officials are zeroing in on the missing plane after weeks of searching.

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 U.S. 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 on Wednesday.

"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 said.

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 route.

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 flight.

Efforts are now focused on two areas - a larger one for aircraft and ships about 2,240 km (1,392 miles) northwest of Perth and a smaller area about 600 km (373 miles) 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 1,000 ft 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.

(Editing by Lincoln Feast and Robert Birsel)

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Comments (17)
Bakhtin wrote:
I hope they find it and retrieved the black box and voice recorder.

The voice recorder is probably not much use as it records only 2 hours so it will not have a record of when the plane went off course. The black box data recorder will have a record of that though.

There is already one benefit from these pings – all the crank conspiracy theorist have gone silent.

Apr 09, 2014 11:30pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
If the plane went off course within an hour of take off then it would be beneficial to have the voice recorder data right? We’d have an hour of conversation that could tell us exactly what happened. When you write about theories based upon limited data I take that to mean you don’t believe the crackpot story that someone turned off the planes’ transponder then flew for seven hours out over the Indian Ocean then fell out of the sky without so much as a seat cushion, luggage case or shoe? That kind of conspiracy or the one where the plane actually landed in Diego-Garcia joint Us/Raf airbase which is actually closer to the “search field” then Perth. Why didn’t the Aussie gov’t send a drone out immediately after the plane disappeared and hover until ships could be on scene? I guess all that talk about patent holders for Freescale Semiconductor Co. being on the plane who lost their right to redemption because the patent wasn’t granted until a few days after they went missing and Rothchild family getting 100% of the royalties is like that eh? Yeah, I see your point no one would take a plane load of people and do bad things just for a few hundred million dollars, you’re right that’s crazy talk… Thx for clearing that up boss.

Apr 10, 2014 2:02am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Bakhtin wrote:
I was wrong… the crackpot conspiracy theorists are still here.

Apr 10, 2014 4:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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