Possible Breakthrough in MH370 Black Box Search
Image Credit: Official U.S. Navy Page via Flickr

Possible Breakthrough in MH370 Black Box Search


Nearly a month after Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared in the early hours of March 8, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, grieving relatives of the passengers on board have had few answers.

That is unlikely to change anytime soon, but this weekend news of an encouraging lead has at least emerged, with both Chinese and Australian search vessels picking up acoustic “pings” that are on the same frequency as the signals emitted by a flight recorder, or black box.

A Chinese patrol vessel detected ultrasonic pings on Friday and then again on Saturday, according to Xinhua. On Sunday, an Australian vessel also picked up a signal, albeit some distance away from those encountered by the Chinese ship. The signals were found in an area in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean about 2000 km off the coast of Western Australia, near an area that has been the focus of an intense search effort after possible debris was sighted in late March.

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More ships and planes were heading towards the area to assist in the search, although experts and authorities were cautious. Speaking from Tokyo, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott  said that it was “by no means certain” that the signals were from the missing aircraft. Air Chief Marshall (ret) Angus Houston, who is in charge of the search, warned that the waters where the “acoustic events” were picked up are extremely deep—about 4500 meters—and that any recovery effort would be “incredibly challenging.”

To make matters more difficult, time is running short. A black box will begin emitting a signal when it comes in contact with water, and generally has enough battery power to continue to do so for 30 days, which suggests that signals could cease over the next few days. That would make the search even more difficult than it already is.

Speaking at a media conference in Perth, Houston said that searchers would be most interested in the two pulses detected by the Chinese vessel, the Haixun 01. This location is somewhat further south than the area that was originally the focus of the search effort. Investigators now believe they may have underestimated the speed of the aircraft, and that it may have traveled further south than originally believed.

Despite extensive speculation, what happened to Flight MH370 remains a mystery. The flight was last hear from at 1:20 am on March 8, off the east coast of Malaysia, and the initial search focused on the South China Sea. Investigators later determined that the flight had subsequently headed west, traversing the Malaysian peninsular, before turning either south or north. Satellites subsequently picked up objects in the southern Indian Ocean that may have been debris from the flight, although that has yet to be confirmed.

Malaysian Airlines and Malaysian authorities have come under fire for their handling of the tragedy, particularly after the airline sent distressed relatives a text message informing them that the passengers were believed to be dead. With many of the passengers on MH370 Chinese, the missing flight has also strained relations between Malaysia and China.

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