Australian PM says searchers confident of position of MH370's black boxes

PERTH/SHANGHAI Fri Apr 11, 2014 10:42am EDT

1 of 6. A crew member looks out an observation window aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 April 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Richard Polden

PERTH/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Search and rescue officials in Australia are confident they know the approximate position of the black box recorders from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.

At the same time, however, the head of the agency coordinating the search said that the latest "ping" signal, which was captured by a listening device buoy on Thursday, was not related to the plane.

"We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers (miles)," Abbott said in a speech in the Chinese commercial capital Shanghai.

"Still, confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage from almost four and a half kilometers beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on the flight."

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.

The search was focusing on a small patch of the Indian Ocean on Friday, after the latest "ping" seemed to lend credence to four previous "pings" detected by a U.S. Navy "Towed Pinger Locator" (TPL) towed by Australia's Ocean Shield vessel.

All five acoustic signals were detected in this small area.

But Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency supervising the search effort, said on Friday that analysis of acoustic data confirmed that the latest signal was unlikely to be related to the missing plane's black boxes.

"On the information I have available to me, there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370. I will provide a further update if, and when, further information becomes available," he said in a statement.

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 kilometers off its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route.

BATTERIES FADING AS SEARCH CLOSES IN

Search efforts are now focused on three areas.

Aircraft and ships are combing two large search zones, some 2,390 km (1,485 miles) northwest of Perth, for possible floating debris related to the crash.

But it is the much smaller search zone, just 600 sq km (232 sq miles, located about 1,670 km (1038 miles) northwest of Perth that has generated fresh optimism.

The smaller zone is near where the Ocean Shield picked up the acoustic signals and where dozens of sonobuoys capable of transmitting data to search aircraft via radio signals were dropped on Wednesday.

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, Abbott said.

"We are now getting to the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade and we are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires," he said.

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.

An autonomous underwater vehicle named Bluefin-21 is onboard the Ocean Shield and could be deployed to look for wreckage on the sea floor once a final search area has been identified.

(Additional reporting by Matt Siegel and Lincoln Feast in SYDNEY; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Comments (9)
Verpoly wrote:
So Houston is only interested in recovering the black boxes but not 239 bodies.

Apr 11, 2014 5:05am EDT  --  Report as abuse
junior_kodak wrote:
Let the bodies rest. The important thing is to try to determine what happened so we can improve things in future to avoid tradgedies such as this.

Apr 11, 2014 8:14am EDT  --  Report as abuse
gcf1965 wrote:
The bodies will yield no information, the black boxes are valuable that way. While loved ones would like closure, I personally think they should remain where they are. The expense of recovery will yield nothing beneficial and will not bring them back.

Apr 11, 2014 9:19am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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