About a month after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, an Australian navy vessel fitted with U.S. Navy black-box detector picked up two extended signals Sunday in an area in the Indian Ocean that is about 300 nautical miles away from where a Chinese patrol vessel received a "ping" signal twice on Friday and Saturday.
The naval ship Ocean Shield picked up two signals that were consistent with the pings emitted by an aircraft's black-box flight recorders, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the multinational search, announced Monday.
The first signal was held for more than two hours in the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, where Flight MH370 is believed to have crashed after disappearing from civilian radar on March 8, The Wall Street Journal quoted Houston as saying. The second signal was picked up on a return trip along the same path of the ocean and held for around 13 minutes.
"Significantly this would be consistent with transmission from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder," Houston said. "Clearly this is a most promising lead and probably in the search so far, it's probably the best information that we have had."
Separately, the Chinese ship Haixun 01 picked up a pulse signal twice with a frequency of 37.5 kHz Friday and Saturday within 1.2 miles of each other and 300 nautical miles away from the Australian vessel, which is in the main search zone.
"The 37.5kHz is the specific frequency that these locator pingers operate on," Anish Patel, president of Sarasota, Florida-based Dukane Seacom, told Reuters. "It's a very unique frequency, typically not found in background ocean noise."
However, Houston said there was no conclusive evidence yet linking the pings to the Boeing 777, and added, "We are running out of time in terms of terms of the battery life."
The Chinese detector has the capacity to identify sounds at depths of less than 1,000 feet, whereas the ocean bottom exceeds 13,000 feet. The Australian vessel with the U.S. detector is best-equipped to locate the flight recorders, Houston said.
Meanwhile, the mystery behind the disappearance of the jetliner deepened Sunday as a senior Malaysian government source told CNN that the plane skirted Indonesian airspace as it went off the grid and veered off course. This could mean the aircraft may have been taken along a route deliberately to avoid radar detection, the source added.
The flight took off at 12:40 a.m. on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, including the captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid. The flight lost contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
The plane was carrying people from 14 countries and territories: 152 from China; 38 from Malaysia; seven from Indonesia; six from Australia; five from India; three each from France and the United States; two each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada; and one each from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Netherlands and Austria, according to Malaysian Airlines.
Those on board included 50-year-old Philip Wood, an IBM executive from North Texas who moved to East Asia. Two other Americans have been identified as Nicole Meng, 4, and Yan Zhang, 2.