Asia-Pacific

Wednesday 20 August 2014

'Encouraging' lead in airliner hunt

Published 06/04/2014 | 09:42

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People place candles on a banner reading, "Pray for MH370" after a special prayer for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur April 6, 2014. International search planes and ships are heading to an area where a Chinese ship twice heard what could be signals from MH370's black box locators, Australian search authorities said on Sunday. REUTERS/Samsul Said (MALAYSIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT RELIGION)
People place candles on a banner reading, "Pray for MH370" after a special prayer for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur April 6, 2014. International search planes and ships are heading to an area where a Chinese ship twice heard what could be signals from MH370's black box locators, Australian search authorities said on Sunday. REUTERS/Samsul Said
A man places a LED candle after a mass prayer for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet said that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)
A man places a LED candle after a mass prayer for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet said that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)
Chinese relatives of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 hold LED candles as they offer prayers during a mass prayer for the missing plane, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet said that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. The writing on the t-shirts reads "Praying that MH370 returns home safely." (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)
Chinese relatives of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 hold LED candles as they offer prayers during a mass prayer for the missing plane, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, April 6, 2014. The head of the multinational search for the missing Malaysia airlines jet said that electronic pulses reportedly picked up by a Chinese ship are an encouraging sign but stresses they are not yet verified. The writing on the t-shirts reads "Praying that MH370 returns home safely." (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

Naval vessels carrying sophisticated deep-sea black box detectors are rushing to the site of an "important and encouraging" lead in the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner.

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But the head of the multinational search today that while it was an "encouraging" lead it should be treated carefully.

Retired Australian Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston stressed the two electronic pulses that a Chinese ship reported detecting on Friday and yesterday had not been verified as connected to the missing jet.

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported late yesterday that the patrol vessel Haixun 01 had detected a "pulse signal" at 37.5 kilohertz (cycles per second) - the same frequency emitted by flight data recorders aboard the missing plane - in the search area in the southern Indian Ocean.

Mr Houston confirmed the report, and said Haixun 01 had detected a signal again yesterday within 1.4 miles of the original signal, for a period of 90 seconds.

He said that China also reported seeing white objects floating in the sea in the area.

"This is an important and encouraging lead, but one which I urge you to treat carefully," he told reporters in Perth.

"I (have) made clear, that these signals and the objects could not be verified as connected to the missing aircraft ... that remains the case."

Mr Houston said the British navy's HMS Echo, which is fitted with sophisticated sound locating equipment, is moving immediately to the area where the Haixun 01 detected the signals.

The Australian navy's Ocean Shield, which is carrying high-tech sound detectors from the U.S. Navy, will also travel to the area.

But Ocean Shield would first investigate a sound it had picked up from the deep ocean in a different region, he said.

He said Australian air force assets were also being deployed today into the Haixun 01's area.

The effort would work on "discounting or confirming the detections," he said.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott earlier expressed caution, saying: "We are hopeful but by no means certain.

"This is the most difficult search in human history. We need to be very careful about coming to hard and fast conclusions too soon."

Malaysia's defence minister and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein tweeted: "Another night of hope - praying hard."

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 only last for about a month.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and investigators believe it veered way off course and came down somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, though they have not been able to explain why it did so.

Press Association

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