An Australian navy ship has detected new underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes, the search chief said on Monday, describing it as the “most promising lead” so far in the month-old hunt for missing Flight MH370.
Retired Australian defence force chief Angus Houston said the acoustics, emanating from deep down in the Indian Ocean, showed that the multinational search by ships and planes seemed to be “very close to where we need to be”.
The apparent breakthrough comes as the clock ticks past the 30-day lifespan of the emergency beacon battery fitted to the black box of the Malaysia Airlines jet, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“The towed pinger locator deployed from the Australian defence vessel Ocean Shield has detected signals consistent with those emitted from aircraft black boxes,” Houston told a press conference.
“We have not found the aircraft yet, we need further confirmation,” he said, while describing the information received over the past 24 hours as “very encouraging”.
One of the contacts continued for two hours and 20 minutes with the second lasting for 13 minutes. “On this (second) occasion two distinct ping returns were audible,” Houston said.
“Significantly, this would be consistent with transmission from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.”
“This is a most promising lead and probably in the search so far it’s probably the best information that we have had,” the former air chief marshal said.
“We are now in a very well-defined search area which hopefully will eventually lead to the information that we need to say that MH370 might have entered the water just here.”
The hunt was adjusted to the southern end of the search zone Sunday after corrected satellite data showed it was more likely the plane entered the water there. The location is thousands of kilometres south of the flight’s scheduled route to Beijing.
Malaysian inquiries into the aircraft’s disappearance have centred on hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among passengers or crew, but there is no evidence yet to support any of the theories.
In the absence of confirmed wreckage, the black box or other firm evidence, relatives of those aboard – who were mostly Chinese – have endured an agonising wait for information.