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MH370: Tony Abbot confident of finding black box

A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion is flown by Flt. Lt Tim McAlevey back, in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 over the Indian Ocean. Picture: AP

A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion is flown by Flt. Lt Tim McAlevey back, in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 over the Indian Ocean. Picture: AP

SEARCH crews are confident that signals detected deep in the Indian Ocean are from the black boxes of missing Malaysian flight MH370, Australia’s prime minister said Friday, 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 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) deep.

The Australian ship Ocean Shield is towing a US 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 from almost 4 { kilometers beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on that flight.”

Abbott also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday 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.

An Australian air force P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sonar buoys into the water near where the Ocean Shield picked up the sounds, detected another possible signal on Thursday, but Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search for the plane, said in a statement that an initial assessment had determined it was not related to an aircraft black box.

The buoys each have a hydrophone listening device that dangles about 300 meters (1,000 feet) below the surface and their data are sent via radio back to a plane, Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said.

The Ocean Shield was still towing its pinger locator to try to find additional signals on Friday, and the Orions were continuing their hunt, Houston said. The underwater search zone is currently a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) patch of the ocean floor, about the size of the city of Los Angeles.

“It is vital to glean as much information as possible while the batteries on the underwater locator beacons may still be active,” Houston said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 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.

 

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