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More pings raise hope in search

by KRISTEN GELINEAU and NICK PERRY, Associated Press on April 09, 2014 10:40 AM

PERTH, Australia — The frustrating monthlong search for the Malaysian jetliner received a tremendous boost when a navy ship detected two more signals that most likely emanated from the aircraft’s black boxes. The Australian official coordinating the search expressed hope today that the wreckage will soon be found.

Angus Houston, head of a joint agency coordinating the search for the missing plane in the southern Indian Ocean, said that the Australian naval vessel Ocean Shield picked up the two signals on Tuesday, and that an analysis of two sounds detected in the same area on Saturday 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 signals detected 1,020 miles northwest of Perth are the strongest indication yet that the plane crashed and is now lying at the bottom of the ocean in the area where the search is now focused.

Still, Houston warned 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 on March 8 with 239 people on board.

If the beacons blink off before the black boxes’ location can be determined, finding them in such deep water — about 15,000 feet — would be an immensely difficult, if not impossible, task.

The Ocean Shield first detected underwater sounds on Saturday before losing them, but managed to pick them up again on Tuesday, Houston said. The ship is equipped with a U.S. Navy towed pinger locator 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 heard Saturday determined they were distinct, man-made and pulsed consistently, Houston said, indicating they were coming from a plane’s black box.

“They believe the signals to be consistent with the specification and description of a flight data recorder,” he said.

To assist the Ocean Shield, the Australian navy today began using parachutes to drop a series of buoys in a pattern near where the signals were last heard.

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy will dangle an underwater listening device called a hydrophone about 1,000 feet below the surface.

The hope, he said, is the buoys will help better pinpoint the location of the signals.

Houston said searchers were running out of time, and noted that the signals picked up Tuesday were weaker and briefer than the ones heard over the weekend, suggesting the batteries might be dying.

The two signals detected on Saturday lasted two hours and 20 minutes and 13 minutes, respectively; the sounds heard Tuesday lasted just 5 1/2 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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