A Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail takes off from Perth Airport on route to conduct search operations for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in southern Indian Ocean, near the coast of Western Australia, Saturday. (AP Photo)
PERTH, Australia — A Chinese ship involved in the hunt for the missing Malaysian jetliner reported hearing a "pulse signal" Saturday in southern Indian Ocean waters with the same frequency emitted by the plane's data recorders.
The Australian government agency coordinating the search for the missing plane said early Sunday that the electronic pulse signals reportedly detected by the Chinese ship are consistent with those of an aircraft black box. But retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the search coordination agency, said they "cannot verify any connection" at this stage between the electronic signals and the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Military and civilian planes, ships with deep-sea searching equipment and a British nuclear submarine scoured a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast, in an increasingly urgent hunt for debris and the "black box" recorders that hold vital information about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's last hours.
After weeks of fruitless looking, officials face the daunting prospect that sound-emitting beacons in the flight and voice recorders will soon fall silent as their batteries die after sounding electronic "pings" for a month.
A Chinese ship that is part of the search effort detected a "pulse signal" in southern Indian Ocean waters, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. Xinhua, however, said it had not yet been determined whether the signal was related to the missing plane, citing the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center.
Xinhua said a black box detector deployed by the ship, Haixun 01, picked up a signal at 37.5 kilohertz (cycles per second), the same frequency emitted by flight data recorders.
Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, confirmed that the frequency emitted by Flight 370's black boxes were 37.5 kilohertz and said authorities were verifying the report.
Earlier Saturday, Xinhua reported that a Chinese military aircraft searching for the missing aircraft spotted "white floating objects" not far from where the electronic signals were detected.
Houston said the Australian-led Joint Agency Coordination Centre heading the search operation could not yet verify the Chinese reports and had asked China for "any further information that may be relevant." He said the Australian air force was considering deploying more aircraft to the area where the Chinese ship reportedly detected the sounds.
"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, adding that the Australian-led agency had also received reports of the white objects sighted on the ocean surface about 56 miles from where the electronic signals were detected.
"However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft," Houston said.
Still, Malaysia's defense minister and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, was hopeful. "Another night of hope — praying hard," he tweeted in response to the latest discoveries.
There are many clicks, buzzes and other sounds in the ocean from animals, but the 37.5 kilohertz pulse was selected for underwater locator beacons on black boxes because there is nothing else in the sea that would naturally make that sound, said William Waldock, an expert on search and rescue who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.
"They picked that (frequency) so there wouldn't be false alarms from other things in the ocean," he said.
Honeywell Aerospace, which made the boxes in the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, said the Underwater Acoustic Beacons on both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder operate at a frequency of 37.5 kilohertz plus or minus 1 kilohertz.
Waldock cautioned that "it's possible it could be an aberrant signal" from a nuclear submarine if there was one in the vicinity.
If the sounds can be verified, it would reduce the search area to about 4 square miles, Waldock said. Unmanned robot subs with sidescan sonar would then be sent into the water to try to locate the wreckage, he said.
John Goglia, a former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member, called the report "exciting," but cautioned that "there is an awful lot of noise in the ocean."
"One ship, one ping doesn't make a success story," he said. "It will have to be explored. I guarantee you there are other resources being moved into the area to see if it can be verified."
The Boeing 777 disappeared March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people aboard. So far, no trace of the jet has been found.
Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Kristen Gelineau and Rohan Sullivan in Sydney, and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.comments powered by Disqus