(Adds comment from Australian search authorities)
* Pulse signal picked up in southern Indian Ocean -Xinhua
* Malaysia launches investigation into MH370 loss
* Up to 13 planes, 11 ships search Indian Ocean on Saturday
* Ships using sonar equipment now trying to find black boxes
* Jet's black box locator beacon battery life running out
By Siva Govindasamy and Swati Pandey
KUALA LUMPUR/PERTH, Australia, April 5 A Chinese
patrol ship hunting for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner
detected a pulse signal in the south Indian Ocean on Saturday,
the state news agency Xinhua reported, in a possible indicator
of the underwater beacon from a plane's "black box".
A black box detector deployed by the vessel Haixun 01 picked
up the "ping" signal at around 25 degrees south latitude and 101
degrees east longitude, according to Xinhua.
It has not been established whether the ping is related to
Flight MH370, which went missing four weeks ago with 239 people
aboard shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
Xinhua further said a Chinese air force plane spotted a
number of white floating objects in the search area.
Australian search authorities also said they had yet to
verify whether the pulse signal was related to MH370.
Malaysia said earlier on Saturday it had begun a formal
investigation into the jet's March 8 disappearance that would
comprise experts from around the world, while the huge hunt for
the Boeing 777 airliner intensified in the Indian Ocean.
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. rules.
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a
cause but say the evidence, including the loss of
communications, suggests Flight MH370 was deliberately diverted
thousands of kilometres (miles) from its scheduled route.
Defence and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein
told a news conference that Australia, China, the United States,
the United Kingdom and France had agreed to send representatives
to take part in the investigation.
The extensive search and rescue operation has so far
included assets from around 26 countries.
Under International Civil Aviation Organisation rules, the
country where the aircraft is registered leads the investigation
when the incident takes place in international waters.
A spokesman from the U.N. agency told Reuters that it
received official notification of the accident on 28 March,
meaning that the investigation was considered officially
launched on that date.
Hishammuddin said that the investigation would be made up of
three groups: An "airworthiness" group 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 factors.
The Malaysian government has also set up ministerial
committees to oversee everything pertaining to the next of kin
of the passengers and crew on board the aircraft, the
appointment of the investigation team and the deployment of
assets in the search operation.
EXTENSIVE SEARCH CONTINUES
Searchers on Saturday launched the most intensive hunt yet
in the southern Indian Ocean, trying to find the plane's black
box recorders before their batteries run out.
Up to 10 military planes, three civilian jets and 11 ships
were scouring a 217,000-sq-km (88,000-sq-mile) patch of desolate
ocean some 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Perth, Australia
near where investigators believe the Boeing went down.
"If we haven't found anything in six weeks we will continue
because there are a lot of things in the aircraft that will
float," Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the
Australian agency coordinating the operation, told reporters.
"Eventually I think something will be found that will help
us narrow the search area."
Dozens of flights by a multinational taskforce have so far
failed to turn up any trace of the plane.
The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military
radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent
hourly electronic "handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led
investigators to conclude the plane crashed far off the west
Australian coast hours later.
Sonar equipment on two ships joining the search may help
find the plane's black box voice and data recorders that are key
to unlocking what happened on the flight. The black box is
equipped with a locator beacon that transmits "pings" when
underwater, but its batteries may only last 30 days.
Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger
Locator will be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield,
searching a converging course on a 240-km (150-mile) track with
British hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo.
Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of
little use unless investigators can get a much better idea of
exactly where the plane went into the water, because its limited
range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the
ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean quickly.
"I won't even call it an area. What we are doing is we are
tracking down the best estimate of the course that the aircraft
was on," U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews told Reuters. "It takes
a couple of days on each leg so its a slow-going search."
Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class
nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities, and a Malaysian
frigate was due to arrive in the search area on Saturday.
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism,
particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and holding
back information. Most of the 227 passengers were Chinese.
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Niluksi Koswanage
in KUALA LUMPUR, Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Siva
Govindasamy and Mark Bendeich; Editing by Nick Macfie, Raissa
Kasolowsky and Mark Heinrich)