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Saturday 20 September 2014

Flight MH 370: Australian search teams relocate pinger signals

Search team leader says discovery of jet's final resting place could only be days away

Published 09/04/2014 | 07:30

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Able Seaman Clearance Diver Matthew Johnston  searches the ocean for debris in the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force on April 8.
Able Seaman Clearance Diver Matthew Johnston searches the ocean for debris in the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force on April 8.

A SHIP searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has relocated underwater signals, raising hopes that the jet's final resting place will be discovered in "a matter of days", according to the man in charge of the operation.

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Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency co-ordinating the search for the missing Boeing 777 in the southern Indian Ocean, said the Australian navy's Ocean Shield picked up the two signals in a sweep yesterday. Signals had first been discovered over the weekend before being lost.

“I think we are looking in the right area but I am not prepared to confirm anything until such time someone lays eyes on the wreckage,” he said.

The ship is equipped with a US Navy towed pinger locater designed to pick up signals from a plane's black boxes – the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

“Hopefully in a matter of days, we will be able to find something on the bottom that might confirm that this is the last resting place of MH370,” retired air chief marshal Mr Houston said in Perth, the starting point for the southern Indian Ocean search.

“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. And I would just like to have that hard evidence...photograph evidence...that this is the final resting place of MH370.”

“The better Ocean Shield can define the area, the easier it will be for the autonomous underwater vehicle to subsequently search for aircraft wreckage,” Mr Houston said.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, carrying 239 people on board, went missing on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, setting off one of aviation's biggest mysteries.

The search has shifted from waters off of Vietnam, to the Strait of Malacca and then finally to waters in the southern Indian Ocean as data from radar and satellites was further analysed.

The locator beacons on the black boxes have a battery life of only about a month - and yesterday 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.

Finding any wreckage in such deep water has proved to be a monumental task.

In addition to the depth and remoteness of the area, search crews are also contending with layers of silt on the sea bed that can both hide any possible wreckage and distort the sounds emanating from the black boxes that may be resting there, said Royal Australian Navy commodore Peter Leavy.

Meanwhile, the search for debris on the ocean surface picked up intensity, with 15 planes and 14 ships scouring a 29,121 square mile area that extends from 1,405 miles north west of Perth.

Steve Anderson, Independent.co.uk

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