More ships rush to probe signals in plane search

2014-04-06 16:44
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Perth - Three separate but fleeting sounds from deep in the Indian Ocean offered new hope on Sunday in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as officials rushed to determine whether they were signals from the plane's black boxes before their beacons fall silent.

The head of the multinational search being conducted off Australia's west coast confirmed that a Chinese ship had picked up electronic pulsing signals twice in a small patch of the search zone, once on Friday and again on Saturday.

On Sunday, an Australian ship carrying sophisticated deep-sea sound equipment picked up a third signal in a different part of the massive search area.

"This is an important and encouraging lead, but one which I urge you to treat carefully," retired Australian Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search, told reporters in Perth.

Houston stressed that the signals had not been verified as being linked to Flight 370, which was travelling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing when it disappeared on 8 March with 239 people on board. Experts, meanwhile, expressed doubt that the equipment aboard the Chinese ship was capable of picking up signals from the black boxes.

"We have an acoustic event. The job now is to determine the significance of that event. It does not confirm or deny the presence of the aircraft locator on the bottom of the ocean," Houston said, referring to each of the three transmissions.

"We are dealing with very deep water, we are dealing with an environment where sometimes you can get false indications," he said. "There are lots of noises in the ocean, and sometimes the acoustic equipment can rebound, echo if you like."

China's official Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday that the patrol vessel Haixun 01 detected a "pulse signal" on Friday in the southern Indian Ocean at 37.5kHz - the same frequency emitted by the flight data recorders aboard the missing plane.

Houston confirmed the report, and said the Haixun 01 detected a signal again on Saturday within 2km of the original signal, for 90 seconds. He said China also reported seeing white objects floating in the sea in the area.

The British navy ship HMS Echo, which is fitted with sophisticated sound-locating equipment, is moving to the area where the signals were picked up and will probably get there early on Monday, Houston said.

The Australian navy's Ocean Shield, which is carrying high-tech sound detectors from the US Navy, will also head there, but will first investigate the sound it picked up in its current region, about 555km away, he said.

Australian air force assets are also being deployed into the Haixun 01's area to try to confirm or discount the signals' relevance to the search, Houston said.

Prayer service

In Kuala Lumpur, families of passengers aboard the missing plane attended a prayer service on Sunday that also drew thousands of Malaysian sympathisers.

"This is not a prayer for the dead because we have not found bodies. This is a prayer for blessings and that the plane will be found," said Liow Tiong Lai, the president of the government coalition party that organised the two-hour session.

Two Chinese women were in tears and hugged by their caregivers after the rally. Many others looked somber, and several wore white T-shirts emblasoned with the words "Pray for MH370".

Two-thirds of the passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, and a group of relatives has been in Kuala Lumpur for most of the past month to follow the investigation. Liow said some of them were planning to go home on Sunday.

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 last for only about a month.

Investigators believe Flight 370 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.

The crew of the Chinese ship reportedly picked up the signals using a hand-held sonar device called a hydrophone dangled over the side of a small runabout - something experts said was technically possible but extremely unlikely.

'Needle in a haystack'

The equipment aboard the Ocean Shield and the HMS Echo are dragged slowly behind each ship over long distances and are considered far more sophisticated than those the Chinese crew was using.

Footage aired on China's state-run CCTV showed crew members in the small boat with a device shaped like a large soup can attached to a pole. It was hooked up by cords to electronic equipment in a padded suitcase as they poked the device into the water.

"If the Chinese have discovered this, they have found a new way of finding a needle in a haystack," said aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of AirlineRatings.com. "Because this is amazing. And if it proves to be correct, it's an extraordinarily lucky break."

There are many clicks, buzzes and other sounds in the ocean from animals, but the 37.5kHz pulse was selected for underwater locator beacons because there is nothing else in the sea that would naturally make that sound, said William Waldock, an expert on search and rescue who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.

"They picked that [frequency] so there wouldn't be false alarms from other things in the ocean," he said.

But after weeks of false alarms, officials were careful on Sunday not to overplay the development.

"We are hopeful but by no means certain," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said of the detection of the signals.

"This is the most difficult search in human history. We need to be very careful about coming to hard and fast conclusions too soon," Abbott told reporters during a visit to Japan.

The search area has evolved as experts analysed Flight 370's limited radar and satellite data, moving from the seas off Vietnam, to the waters west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia.

'China sharing everything'

A senior Malaysian government official said on Sunday that investigators have determined that the plane skirted Indonesian airspace as it flew from Peninsular Malaysia to the southern Indian Ocean.

The official, who declined to be named because he isn't authorised to speak to the media, said Indonesian authorities have confirmed that the plane did not show up on their military radar. The plane could have deliberately flown around Indonesian airspace to avoid radar detection, or may have coincidentally travelled out of radar range, he said.

Houston, the search coordinator, conceded that his organisation first heard about the initial signal China had detected when it was reported by a Chinese journalist aboard the Haixun 01. He said that at "almost the same time" he was informed of the development by the Chinese government.

The agency was formally told about the second Chinese detection on Saturday "in absolutely the normal way", he said.

"China is sharing everything that is relevant to this search. Everything," Houston said.

Still, the search agency will be adding a Chinese-speaking liaison officer "to make sure nothing falls through the cracks", he said.

Houston also said there had been a correction to satellite data that investigators have been using to calculate Flight 370's likely flight pattern. As a result, starting on Monday, the southern section of the current search zone will be given higher priority than the northern part.

The signals detected by the Chinese ship were in the southern high priority zone, Houston said.

Up to 12 military and civilian planes and 13 ships took part in the search on Sunday of three areas totaling about 216 000km². The areas are about 2 000km northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth.

- AP
Read more on:    malaysia  |  malaysia airlines flight mh370
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
3 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Hottie of the day: Nicole Meyer!

Nicole is the cover girl for the 2014 edition of SA Swimsuit! Check out some smoking hot pics of here here.

 
 

Men24.com

11 things men don’t know about their clothes
Hilarious mortal kombat elevator prank!
This is how the Top Gear presenters spend their £55 million!
Thirty and still single? There’s hope!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to 60% on toys!

Don’t miss out on this hot offer, save up to 60% on toys. While stocks last. Shop now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

It may be hard to stay cool, calm and collected. Your emotions can get quite heated in the moment. You may benefit from finding a...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.