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More underwater pings heard in hunt for plane

PERTH, Australia — A ship searching for the missing Malaysian jet has detected two more underwater signals that may be emanating from the aircraft's black boxes, and the Australian official in charge of the search expressed hope Wednesday that the plane's wreckage will soon be found.

Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search for the missing plane in the southern Indian Ocean, said that the Australian navy's Ocean Shield picked up the two signals in a sweep on Tuesday, and that analysis of two sounds detected in the same area last week showed they were consistent with a plane's black boxes.

"I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not too distant future — but we haven't found it yet, because this is a very challenging business," Houston said at a news conference in Perth, the hub for the search operation.

The Ocean Shield first detected underwater sounds on Saturday before losing them, but managed to pick up the signals again on Tuesday, Houston said. The ship is equipped with a U.S. Navy towed pinger locator that is designed to detect signals from a plane's two black boxes — the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

A data analysis of the signals detected Saturday determined they were stable, distinct and clear sounds that pulsed consistently — indicating they were coming from a plane's black box, Houston said.

"(The analysts) therefore assess that the transmission was not of natural origin and was likely sourced from specific electronic equipment," Houston said. "They believe the signals to be consistent with the specification and description of a flight data recorder."

Despite the promising evidence, Houston warned that he could not yet conclude that searchers had pinpointed Flight 370's crash site.

"I think that we're looking in the right area, but I'm not prepared to say — to confirm — anything until such time as somebody lays eyes on the wreckage," he said.

Finding the black boxes quickly is a matter of urgency, because their locator beacons have a battery life of only about a month — and Tuesday marked exactly one month since the plane vanished. Once the beacons blink off, locating the black boxes in such deep water would be an immensely difficult, if not impossible, task.

Houston acknowledged that they were running out of time, and noted that the signals picked up on Tuesday were weaker and briefer than the ones heard over the weekend — suggesting that, if they are coming from the plane's black boxes, the batteries are dying. The two signals detected on Saturday lasted two hours and 20 minutes and 13 minutes, respectively; the sounds heard Tuesday lasted just 5 and a half minutes and 7 minutes.

"So we need to, as we say in Australia, 'make hay while the sun shines,'" Houston said.

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This image provided by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre on Wednesday, April 9, shows a map indicating the locations of signals detected by vessels looking for signs of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

(AP)

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