Authorities say they are “very close” to finding the missing Malaysian Airlines plane after an Australian ship detected pulse signals – believed to be from the aircraft’s black box pinger – which lasted for two hours and twenty minutes.
Angus Houston, who is co-ordinating the multinational search, said Australia’s Ocean Shield heard a second batch of signals several hours later for 13 minutes but lost contact about 24 hours ago and is trying to relocate the pulses. The signals “sound just like an emergency locator beacon” and are believed to have been emitted from a pinger attached to the plane’s black box, he said.
“We are encouraged that we are very close to where we need to be,” he said.
“In the search so far it is probably the best information we have had… We are trying to fix the position on the basis of the transmissions… I would want more information before we say ’this is it’.”
Mr Houston, a former Australian defence chief, said it would probably take days to confirm whether the plane has been found and a potential subsequent recovery of the aircraft would take a “long long time”, possibly months. Authorities have not confirmed whether the signals tally with those recently heard by a Chinese ship, which is further south.
Mr Houston said the area in the Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to be located is 14,800 feet deep. An underwater autonomous vehicle will be dispatched to comb the ocean bed for possible wreckage but its depth limit is also 14,800 feet.
“This is very deep water – we are right on the edge of capability,” he said.
“What I would like to see now is to find some wreckage. That would help solve the mystery. Without wreckage, we can’t say it is definitely here. We have to go down and have a look.”
The black box pinger lasts 30 days before it runs out of battery life though it may last a further two weeks. The plane, carrying 239 passengers, disappeared on March 8, which means the pinging may already be fading.
“This is not the end of the search,” he said. “We still have a lot of difficult painstaking work to do to confirm that this is where the aircraft entered the water. We need more evidence.”