Signals picked up by a ship searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are consistent with aircraft flight recorders, Australian officials say.
On Sunday, Chinese and Australian search teams were scouring the southern Indian Ocean to try and verify if any one of three “acoustic events” may have come from the missing plane.
On Monday, Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency coordinating the search, told a news conference in Perth that they had come across a “most promising lead” after two signals were detected off Australia’s northwest coast.
“On this occasion two distinct pinger returns were audible,” he said. “Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.”
The first detection held for 2.5 hours before the ship lost contact. After turning around, the ship picked up the signal for around 13 minutes, he said.
A Chinese vessel, the Haixun 01, has also detected a fleeting “ping” twice in recent days – around 300 nautical miles away from where the Australian ship, the HMAS Ocean Shield, is searching.
Haixun 01 has now been accompanied by British survey ship the HMS Echo.
Confirmation of whether the signals were emitted from MH370, which has been missing for almost a month with 239 people on board, could take several days, Mr Houston said.
The plane’s black boxes are equipped with locator beacons that send out “pings”. However, the battery life on the black boxes is running out, intensifying the need for some positive news in the search.
If the signals can be narrowed further, an unmanned underwater vehicle, Bluefin 21, will be sent to attempt to locate wreckage on the sea floor to verify the signals, said Mr Houston.
At the location where the signals have been detected the water in 2.8 miles deep – just within the dive range of the submarine.
“We are right on the edge of capability and we might be limited on capability if the aircraft ended up in deeper water,” Mr Houston said. “In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast.”