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New “pings” detected in MH370 search

April 10, 2014, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - An Australian aircraft Thursday detected what may be the fifth signal coming from a man-made device deep in the Indian Ocean, adding to hopes that searchers will soon pinpoint the object's location and send down a robotic vehicle to confirm if it is a black box from the missing Malaysian jet.


April 10, 2014
By The Associated Press

The Australian air force P-3 Orion, which has been dropping
sound-locating buoys into the water near where the original sounds were
heard, picked up a "possible signal" that may be from a man-made source,
said Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search off Australia's west
coast.

 

"The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight," Houston said in a statement.

 

If confirmed, the signal would further narrow the hunt for Malaysia
Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished on March 8 while flying from Kuala
Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.

 

The Australian ship Ocean Shield picked up two underwater sounds on
Tuesday, and two sounds it detected Saturday were determined to be
consistent with the pings emitted from a plane's flight recorders, or
"black boxes."

 

The Australian air force has been dropping sonar buoys to maximize
the sound-detectors operating in a search zone that is now the size of
the city of Los Angeles.

 

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy is
dangling a hydrophone listening device about 300 metres below the
surface. The hope, he said, is that the buoys will help better pinpoint
the signals, along with the Ocean Shield, which is slowly dragging a
U.S. navy pinger locator through the water.

 

The underwater search zone is currently a 1,300 square kilometre
patch of the ocean floor, and narrowing the area as small as possible is
crucial before an unmanned submarine can be sent to create a sonar map
of a potential debris field on the seabed. 

 

The Bluefin 21 sub takes six times longer to cover the same area as
the pinger locator, and it would take the vehicle about six weeks to two
months to canvass the underwater search zone, which is about the size
of Los Angeles. That's why the acoustic equipment is still being used to
hone in on a more precise location, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said.

 

The search for floating debris on the ocean surface was narrowed
Thursday to its smallest size yet — 57,900 square kilometres, or about
one-quarter the size it was a few days ago. Fourteen planes and 13 ships
were looking for floating debris, about 2,300 kilometres northwest of
Perth.

 

A "large number of objects" had been spotted by crews combing the
area for floating debris on Wednesday, but the few that had been
retrieved by search vessels were not believed to be related to the
missing plane, the search co-ordination centre said.

Crews hunting for debris on the surface have already looked in the
area they were crisscrossing on Thursday, but were moving in tighter
patterns, now that the search zone has been narrowed to about a quarter
the size it was a few days ago, Houston said.

 

Houston has expressed optimism about the sounds detected earlier in
the week, saying on Wednesday that he was hopeful crews would find the
aircraft — or what's left of it — in the "not-too-distant future."

 

The locator beacons on the black boxes holding the flight data and
cockpit voice recorders have a battery life of about a month, and
Tuesday marked one month since Flight MH370 disappeared. The plane
veered off-course for an unknown reason, so the data on the black boxes
are essential to finding the plane and solving the mystery.

 

Investigators suspect it went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on
a flight path calculated from its contacts with a communications
satellite and analysis of its speed and when it would have run out of
fuel.

An Australian government briefing document circulated among
international agencies involved in the search on Thursday said it was
likely that the acoustic pingers would continue to transmit at
decreasing strength for up to 10 more days, depending on conditions.

 

Once there is no hope left of the Ocean Shield's equipment picking up any more sounds, the Bluefin sub will be deployed.

Complicating matters, however, is the depth of the seafloor in the
search area. The pings detected earlier are emanating from 4,500
metres below the surface — which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive.

 

"It'll be pretty close to its operating limit. It's got a safety
margin of error and if they think it's warranted, then they push it a
little bit," said Stefan Williams, a professor of marine robotics at
Sydney University.

 

The search co-ordination centre said it was considering available options in case a deeper diving sub is needed.

But Williams suspects if that happens, the search will be delayed
while an underwater vehicle rated to 6,000 metres was dismantled and air
freighted from Europe, the U.S. or perhaps Japan.

 

Williams said colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
in Massachusetts had autonomous and remotely operated underwater
vehicles that will dive to 11 kilometres, although they might not be
equipped for such a search.

Underwater vessels rated to 6,500 metres could search the sea bed of more than 90 per cent of the world's oceans, Williams said.

 

"There's not that much of it deeper than six and a half kilometres," he said.

 

Williams said it was unlikely that the wreck had fallen into the
narrow Diamantina trench, which is about 5,800 metres deep, since sounds
emanating from that depth would probably not have been detected by the
pinger locator.