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Updated: Sat, 05 Apr 2014 19:53:23 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: 'pulse signal' detected consistent with black box, say Australian officials



Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 reported on Saturday that it's black box detector picked up a pulse signal that is consistent with the 'pings' emitted from an airliner's black box. Those reports have not been independently verified. CNSphoto/Reuters

Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 reported on Saturday that it's black box detector picked up a pulse signal that is consistent with the 'pings' emitted from an airliner's black box. Those reports have not been independently verified. CNSphoto/Reuters

The Australian-led joint agency coordinating the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner says electronic pulse signals reportedly detected by a Chinese ship are consistent with those of an aircraft black box, but that those reports could not be verified as of Sunday morning local time. 

China's Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday that a black box detector deployed by the ship, Haixun 01, picked up a signal at 37.5 kilohertz (cycles per second), the same frequency emitted by flight data recorders. Xinhua also said a Chinese search plane spotted numerous white floating objects about 90 kilometres away.

Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said early Sunday that the agency cannot verify any connection between the signals and Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

"I have been advised that a series of sounds have been detected by a Chinese ship in the search area. The characteristics reported are consistent with the aircraft black box," Houston said

"However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft," Houston said.

According to a release from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority released Sunday, up to 10 military aircraft, two civilian planes and 13 ships will assist in the day's search for debris or any sign of the jet.

Weather in the search area — about 216,000 square kilometres in the southern Indian Ocean — is expected to be good, with visibility greater than 10 kilometres. 

An 'awful lot of noise in the ocean'

Malaysia's defence minister and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, was hopeful. "Another night of hope — praying hard," he tweeted in response to the latest discoveries.

Malaysia vowed Saturday that it would not give up trying to find the missing jetliner and said a multinational investigation team would to try to solve the aviation mystery.

Military and civilian planes, ships with deep-sea searching equipment and a British nuclear submarine scoured a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast, in an increasingly urgent hunt for debris and the "black box" recorders that hold vital information about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's last hours.

After weeks of fruitless looking, officials face the daunting prospect that sound-emitting beacons in the flight and voice recorders will soon fall silent as their batteries die after sounding electronic "pings" for a month.

John Goglia, a former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member, called the report "exciting," but cautioned that "there is an awful lot of noise in the ocean."

"One ship, one ping doesn't make a success story," he said. "It will have to be explored. I guarantee you there are other resources being moved into the area to see if it can be verified."

Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said in a text message that authorities were "verifying the report."

The Boeing 777 disappeared March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people aboard. So far, no trace of the jet has been found.

Confirmation would be 'astronomical luck'

Airline technology consultant Michael Planey said with no other clues found, searchers would have to have "astronomical luck" to be led to the black boxes with just this kind of signal.

"I hate to say at this point that anything is a significant announcement. We've been down so many blind paths and wrong alleys and everything in the search and what's been reported that I don't want to be overly hopeful," Planey told CBC News, speaking from Alexandria, Va.

"It would be truly incredible luck to blindly stumble across the ping from the black box, with no other debris having been located, with no other clues that this could be from that missing Malaysian aircraft," he said.

"The reality is, the frequency that they have detected is the same frequency that is used in almost all emergency locator pingers and in a number of other sea-going devices. So it could be attached to another random piece of equipment that has fallen off of a cargo ship," Planey said.

Hishammuddin told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that the cost of mounting the search was immaterial compared to providing solace for the families of those on board by establishing what happened.

"I can only speak for Malaysia, and Malaysia will not stop looking for MH370," Hishammuddin said.

He said an independent investigator would be appointed to lead a team that will try to determine what happened to Flight 370. The team will include three groups: one will look at airworthiness, including maintenance, structures and systems; another will examine operations, such as flight recorders and meteorology; and a third will consider medical and human factors.

The investigation team will include officials and experts from several nations, including Australia — which as the nearest country to the search zone is currently heading the hunt — China, the U.S., Britain and France, Hishammuddin said.

A multinational search team is desperately trying to find debris floating in the water or faint sound signals from the data recorders that could lead them to the missing plane and unravel the mystery of its fate.

Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on currents to backtrack to where the plane hit the water, and where the flight recorders may be.

Beacons in the black boxes emit "pings" so they can be more easily found, but the batteries last for only about a month.

Officials have said the hunt for the wreckage is among the hardest ever undertaken, and will get much harder still if the beacons fall silent before they are found.

"Where we're at right now, four weeks since this plane disappeared, we're much, much closer," said aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of AirlineRatings.com. "But frustratingly, we're still miles away from finding it. We need to find some piece of debris on the water; we need to pick up the ping."

If it doesn't happen, the only hope for finding the plane may be a full survey of the Indian Ocean floor, an operation that would take years and an enormous international operation.

No new satellite leads

Hishammuddin said there were no new satellite images or data that can provide new leads for searchers. The focus now is fully on the ocean search, he said.

Two ships — the Australian navy's Ocean Shield and the British HMS Echo — carrying sophisticated equipment that can hear the recorders' pings returned Saturday to an area investigators hope is close to where the plane went down. They concede the area they have identified is a best guess.

Up to 13 military and civilian planes and nine other ships took part in the search Saturday, the Australian agency coordinating the search said.

Because the U.S. Navy's pinger locator can pick up signals to a depth of 6,100 metres, it should be able to hear the plane's data recorders even if they are in the deepest part of the search zone — about 5,800 metres. But that's only if the locator gets within range of the black boxes — a tough task, given the size of the search area and the fact that the pinger locator must be dragged slowly through the water at just a few kilometres per hour. 

Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston acknowledged the search area was essentially a best guess, and noted the time when the plane's locator beacons would shut down was "getting pretty close."

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