Caution urged over possible breakthrough
The sharp northwards shift in emphasis in the search for missing Malayasia Airlines flight MH370 in recent days may have paid off with a Chinese vessel picking up a signal at the same frequency as that of the ‘pinger’ attached to the black box flight recorders that were carried by the Boeing 777 when it vanished just over four weeks ago on 8 March.
A statement from China’s Xinhua news agency says a black box detector deployed by the vessel Haixun 01 picked up the signal at around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude.
That appears from the search maps issued by Australia’s maritime search agency AMSA to be very close to yesterday’s search area (see maps). The diagrams may not be quite to scale. The Xinhua graphic is shown below.
Xinhua says the signal has a frequency of 37.5 kilohertz – the same as those emitted by the flight recorders, a cockpit voice recorder, and a flight data recorder.
There had been a northwards and eastwards trend in the search target areas during last week that became much more apparent on Friday, as the maritime search capabilities also expanded significantly.
Five ships from China had assembled in the various target areas by then, there had been the unexpected announcement of the arrival of a British nuclear powered submarine the Tireless, as well as the Royal Navy supply ship Echo.
The Australian supply vessel Ocean Shield entered the search with two state of the art US Navy devices on board, a towed pinger detector, and a larger robot torpedo shaped device designed to dive down to the site of detected signals and map wreckage and the surrounding area in the high resolution necessary to recover the data recorders and other items of interest in a subsequent recovery operation.
This would mirror the operation that ultimately retrieved the data recorders, and some other aircraft components from Air France flight AF447 and some of its 228 victims in 2011, two years after that disaster which destroyed an A330-200 over the mid Atlantic in 2009.
China’s television network CCTV has broadcast from Haixun 01 saying that the frequency of the signal was not exclusive to the black box and could be from other equipment.
That important caution was also made in more detail by Air Chief Marshal (retired) Angus Houston, the head of the search’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, who said the origins of the electronic pulse signals detected by the Chinese ship were yet to be verified.
“I have been advised that a series of sounds have been detected by a Chinese ship in the search area. The characteristics reported are consistent with the aircraft black box,” Houston said.
“A number of white objects were also sighted on the surface about 90 kilometres from the detection area. However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft.
Clearing up the cautions that this may not in fact be a pulse generated by MH370 is hoped to be possible during the day.
MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on 8 March with 239 people onboard. When it was over the Gulf of Thailand and immediately after it signed off from Malaysia’s air space prior to its planned hand over to Vietnam air space control its identifying transponder ceased transmitting.
It was subsequently determined from defence radar analysis to have abruptly changed course and flown westwards and then to the NW off Phuket in Thailand.