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Australian prime minister confident sounds are from plane

by KRISTEN GELINEAU and ROB GRIFFITH, Associated Press on April 11, 2014 10:40 AM

PERTH, Australia — Authorities are confident that signals detected deep in the Indian Ocean are from the missing Malaysian jet’s black boxes, Australia’s prime minister said today, raising hopes they are close to solving one of aviation’s most perplexing mysteries.

Tony Abbott told reporters in Shanghai that crews hunting for Flight 370 have zeroed in on a more targeted area in their search for the source of the sounds, first heard on Saturday.

“We have very much narrowed down the search area and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370,” Abbott said.

“Nevertheless, we’re getting into the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade,” he added. “We are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.”

The plane’s black boxes, or flight data and cockpit voice recorders, may hold the answers to why the Boeing 777 lost communications and veered so far off course when it vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Search crews are racing against time because the batteries powering the devices’ locator beacons last only about a month — and more than a month has passed since the plane disappeared. Finding the black boxes after the batteries fail will be extremely difficult because the water in the area is 15,000 feet deep.

The Australian ship Ocean Shield is towing a U.S. Navy device that detects black box signals, and two sounds it heard Saturday were determined to be consistent with the signals emitted from aircraft flight recorders. Two more sounds were detected in the same general area on Tuesday.

“We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers,” Abbott said. “But confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage.”

Abbott also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing today and briefed him on the search. Two-thirds of the passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, and their relatives have been critical of the Malaysian government’s handling of the crisis.

“This will be a very long, slow and painstaking process,” Abbott told Xi.

The searchers are trying to pinpoint the exact location of the source of the signals so they can send down a robotic submersible to look for wreckage. Houston said today that a decision to send the sub could be “some days away.”

Separately, a Malaysian government official said Thursday that investigators have concluded the pilot spoke the last words to air traffic control, “Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero,” and that his voice had no signs of duress. A re-examination of the last communication from the cockpit was initiated after authorities last week reversed their initial statement that the co-pilot was speaking different words.

Gelineau reported from Sydney. Associated Press writers Nick Perry in Perth, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

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