An aircraft involved in the search for flight MH370 has picked up a signal that could be from the missing aircraft.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, chief coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in Perth, confirmed that the RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft “detected a possible signal” in the vicinity of Ocean Shield – the Australian search vessel that had previously picked up signals.
“The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight but shows potential of being from a man-made source,” Houston said. “I will provide a further update if, and when, further information becomes available.”
The Ocean Shield, which is towing an underwater ‘Pinger Locator’, had previously picked up signals on four separate occasions. Analysis has since shown that the signals are likely to have been emitted by aircraft black boxes.
Update One (Thursday 0930)
The team searching the Indian Ocean for flight MH370 has said it is “optimistic” about locating the missing aircraft, after detecting more electronic underwater pulses.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, the man heading up the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre (JACC) in Perth, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said the Towed Pinger Locator being deployed by Australia’s Ocean Shield search vessel had re-acquired signals it initially picked up on Sunday.
And experts in Australia and the US have also confirmed the electronic pulses were almost certainly emitted by an aircraft’s black box.
“The analysis determined that a very stable, distinct, and clear signal was detected at 33.331 kilohertz and that it consistently pulsed at a 1.106 second interval. They (the analysts), therefore, assess that the transmission was not of natural origin and was likely sourced from specific electronic equipment. They believe the signals to be consistent with the specification and description of a Flight Data Recorder,” Houston said.
When asked what the likelihood was of finding flight MH370 is, Houston added; “If you had asked me let’s say when I arrived last Sunday night, I would have been probably more pessimistic than I am now. I’m now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not too distant future.”
He urged caution however, saying that Ocean Shield is involved the “slow, painstaking and methodical work” to pinpoint the source of the electronic signals. Houston also admitted that the pulses are becoming weaker, as the battery life of the black boxes gradually dims.
“Searching underwater is an extremely laborious task, so the more work we can do on the surface with the Towed Pinger Locator to fix the position of the transmission, the less work we will have to do below the surface, scouring the sea floor,” Houston said.
“Given the guaranteed shelf life of the pinger batteries is 30 days and it is now 33 days since the aircraft went missing, it is important that we gather as much information to fix the possible location of the aircraft while the pingers are still transmitting,” he added.
And even if the search teams do manage to find the location of MH370, recovering the aircraft would be another huge challenge. The depth of the ocean in the search area is up to 4.5km, and there is a huge amount of silt on the bottom, which could impair the view of underwater search vehicles.
MH370 went missing on 8 March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew onboard. The reason for the disappearance is still unknown.