More ships rush to probe signals in plane search
By Nick Perry ,AP
April 7, 2014, 12:02 am TWN
PERTH, Australia -- Three separate but fleeting sounds from deep in the Indian Ocean offered new hope Sunday in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as officials rushed to determine whether they were signals from the plane's black boxes before their beacons fall silent.
The head of the multinational search being conducted off Australia's west coast confirmed that a Chinese ship had picked up electronic pulsing signals twice in a small patch of the search zone, once on Friday and again on Saturday.
On Sunday, an Australian ship carrying sophisticated deep-sea sound equipment picked up a third signal in a different part of the massive search area.
“This is an important and encouraging lead, but one which I urge you to treat carefully,” retired Australian Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search, told reporters in Perth.
He stressed that the signals had not been verified as being linked to Flight 370, which was traveling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing when it disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board.
“We have an acoustic event. The job now is to determine the significance of that event. It does not confirm or deny the presence of the aircraft locator on the bottom of the ocean,” Houston said, referring to each of the three transmissions.
“We are dealing with very deep water, we are dealing with an environment where sometimes you can get false indications,” he said. “There are lots of noises in the ocean, and sometimes the acoustic equipment can rebound, echo if you like.”
China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday that the patrol vessel Haixun 01 detected a “pulse signal” Friday in the southern Indian Ocean at 37.5 kilohertz — the same frequency emitted by the flight data recorders aboard the missing plane.
Houston confirmed the report, and said the Haixun 01 detected a signal again on Saturday within 2 kilometers (1.4 miles) of the original signal, for 90 seconds. He said China also reported seeing white objects floating in the sea in the area.
The British navy ship HMS Echo, which is fitted with sophisticated sound-locating equipment, is moving to the area where the signals were picked up and will probably get there early Monday, Houston said.
The Australian navy's Ocean Shield, which is carrying high-tech sound detectors from the U.S. Navy, will also head there, but will first investigate the sound it picked up in its current region, about 300 nautical miles (555 kilometers) away, he said.
Australian air force assets are also being deployed into the Haixun 01's area to try to confirm or discount the signals' relevance to the search, Houston said.
In Kuala Lumpur, families of passengers aboard the missing plane attended a prayer service on Sunday that also drew thousands of Malaysian sympathizers.
“This is not a prayer for the dead because we have not found bodies. This is a prayer for blessings and that the plane will be found,” said Liow Tiong Lai, the president of the government coalition party that organized the two-hour session.
Two Chinese women were in tears and hugged by their caregivers after the rally. Many others looked somber, and several wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Pray for MH370.”
Two-thirds of the passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, and a group of relatives has been in Kuala Lumpur for most of the past month to follow the investigation. Liow said some of them were planning to go home on Sunday.
After weeks of fruitless looking, the multinational search team is racing against time to find the sound-emitting beacons and cockpit voice recorders that could help unravel the mystery of the plane. The beacons in the black boxes emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the batteries last for only about a month.