Missing Malaysia plane: Search 'regains recorder signal'

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston: "I believe we're searching in the right area"

Teams searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane have reacquired signals that could be consistent with "black box" flight recorders.

An Australian vessel heard the signals again on Tuesday afternoon and evening, the search chief said.

Signals heard earlier had also been further analysed by experts who concluded they were from "specific electronic equipment", he said.

Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March, carrying 239 people.

It was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact with air traffic controllers.

Malaysian officials say that based on satellite data, they believe it ended its flight in the southern Indian Ocean, thousands of kilometres from its intended flight path.

"I believe we are searching in the right area," said Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who heads the joint agency co-ordinating the search.

"But we need to visually identify aircraft wreckage before we can confirm with certainty that this is the final resting place of MH370."

'Clear signal'

The Australian vessel, Ocean Shield, has been towing a US Navy pinger locator to listen for signals from the plane's flight recorders in waters west of the Australian city of Perth.

BBC Map
Crew members are seen aboard a fast response craft (R) from the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield (L) as they continue to search for debris of MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean on 8 April 2014 The signals have been detected by Australian vessel Ocean Shield
The towed pinger locator being used to listen for signals (file image) Ocean Shield is using the towed pinger locator to listen for signals

It twice acquired signals over the weekend.

On Tuesday, it located the signals again, the first time for five minutes and 32 seconds, and the second time for around seven minutes, said ACM Houston.

"Ocean Shield has now detected four transmissions in the same broad area," he said. "Yesterday's signals will assist in better defining a reduced and much more manageable search area on the ocean floor.

The signals have been heard in sea with a depth of 4,500 metres (15,000 feet).

ACM Houston said it was important to refine the search area as much as possible before sending down the Bluefin 21 underwater drone to search for wreckage.

"Now hopefully with lots of transmissions we'll have a tight, small area and hopefully in a matter of days we will be able to find something on the bottom," he said.

Other key points made by ACM Houston:

  • The more signals received the easier it is to pinpoint a location. Signals seem to be fading, which is consistent with black box batteries going flat
  • Vessels on the surface can cover the same search area six times faster than those underwater
  • The ship that is searching for the signals has switched everything off apart from its engines to avoid noise
  • Searchers have no idea what the sea bed looks like in the search area. They think it may be silty
  • Silt is bad news. It can be thick and can hide things in a way that rock does not
  • Dozens of sonar buoys with microphones attached will now be dropped 304m (997ft) below the surface to help listen for signals

Experts at the Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre had also analysed the first two signals heard over the weekend, he added.

Their analysis showed that a "stable, distinct and clear signal" was detected. Experts had therefore assessed that it was not of natural origin and was likely to be from specific electronic equipment.

MH370 - Facts at a glance

  • 8 March: Malaysia Airlines Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight carrying 239 people disappears
  • Plane's transponder, which communicates with ground radar, was switched off as it left Malaysian airspace
  • Satellite 'pings' indicate plane was still flying seven hours after satellite contact was lost
  • 24 March: Based on new calculations, Malaysian PM says "beyond reasonable doubt" that plane crashed in southern Indian Ocean with no survivors

"They believe the signals to be consistent with the specification and description of a flight data recorder," ACM Houston said.

BBC Transport correspondent Richard Westcott says that the searchers will not confirm that they have found the plane until they lay eyes on it with an underwater camera.

If they are in the right place, our correspondent says, it could still be weeks before they find the airliner and it is more probable that they will find something floating before they find anything on the sea bed.

Search teams have been racing against time to locate signals from the flight recorders before their batteries expire after about one month.

Investigators still do not know why MH370 strayed so far off course, after disappearing over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

The backgrounds of both passengers and crew have been scrutinised as officials considered hijacking, sabotage, pilot action or mechanical failure as possible causes.

So far, there is no official explanation for what might have happened.

More on This Story

MH370 mystery

More Asia stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • IslandsUnmapped places

    Will the age-old quest to capture uncharted land and space ever end?

Programmes

  • All-inclusive holidaysThe Travel Show Watch

    With all-inclusive holidays seeing a resurgence are local trades missing out to big resorts?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.