AN Australian ship searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has detected signals which have given rescue teams “the most promising leads so far”.
The search vessel, Ocean Shield, picked up the signals – which could be coming from the black box flight recorders – twice, including once for more than two hours.
Angus Houston, the retired air chief marshall leading the search, said there is hope that teams are homing in on the crash site.
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transport minister, yesterday said he was “cautiously hopeful that there will be a positive development in the next few days, if not hours”.
The missing plane was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March, but is now believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia.
The search vessel detected the signals on Sunday using a pinger locator towed behind the ship at a depth of more than a mile.
A signal was picked up on two occasions. On the first, it was held for two hours and 20 minutes before being lost. The ship then turned around and re-covered the area, and the signal was detected for 13 minutes.
Although the families of the 239 passengers and crew have been told the aircraft is lost, hundreds are still awaiting news of any developments.
Mr Houston said yesterday: “On this occasion two distinct pinger returns were audible. Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.
“I’m much more optimistic than I was a week ago.”
He added: “We are now in a very well-defined search area, which hopefully will eventually yield the information we need to say that MH370 might have entered the water just here.”
Ocean Shield was still searching in an area about 1,040 miles north-west of Perth, in western Australia. The next stage is to fix the signals to a specific point, which would then allow the vessel to lower the Bluefin 21 – an underwater remote-controlled vehicle – which would try to locate wreckage on the sea floor.
The locator beacon attached to the black boxes sends out an acoustic “ping” signal for around 30 days before the signal starts to fade and eventually stops. However, it is now more than 30 days since flight MH370 disappeared.
Yesterday Tony Tyler, director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said he wanted to see a globally agreed-upon tracking standard in place by the end of this year, in order to avoid another case.
Mr Tyler told a media gathering in Abu Dhabi at the Global Aerospace Summit that the cost of tracking would have to be examined in any decision.
He said profit margins for the global industry this year were still very narrow, and he expected them to be around $5.65 (£3.40) per passenger.
“Clearly, cost is one of the issues that will have to be considered when we are looking at what to do about it,” said Mr Tyler. “And we have to make sure that what we do is something the airlines can afford.”
Iata has 240 member airlines carrying 84 per cent of all passengers and cargo worldwide. Mr Tyler said the point of putting in place a global standard for tracking “is the travelling public has a right to expect that aircraft won’t disappear like this, can’t disappear like this”.