The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has taken a new turn over the weekend, after two search vessels reported the detection of “electronic pulse signals,” giving hope to search and rescue teams that have been searching the southern Indian Ocean for weeks.
On Saturday, reports surfaced that the Chinese ship Haixun 01 had detected electronic pulse signals in the southern Indian Ocean. While the initial reports of signals detected by the Chinese vessel were treated cautiously, a day later, the Australian Defense Vessel, Ocean Shield, also reported the detection of pulse signals consistent with those emitted from a flight data recorder, commonly known as a black box.
According to a diagram provided by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the individual signal detections occurred approximately 600 kilometers (373 miles) apart, along one of the calculated satellite "handshake" arcs. While the new leads have given further hope in the possibility of finding Flight MH370, officials made it clear that they still need further confirmation to see if the plane did go down in the area where the signals were detected.
“Clearly, this is a most promising lead. And probably in the search so far, it's probably the best information that we have had. And again, I would ask all of you to treat this information cautiously and responsibly until such time as we can provide an unequivocal determination,” Angus Houston, head of the Australian Joint Agency Coordination Center, said at a press conference on Monday.
The ADV Ocean Shield detected the potential black box signal and held contact with it for approximately two hours and 20 minutes. After losing the signal contact, the ADV Ocean Shield turned around and acquired two distinct signals, which were detected for approximately 13 minutes. According to Houston, the pings detected are consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.
While the new ping detections have allowed search and rescue teams to narrow their focus in the search for Flight MH370, finding precise location of the Boeing 777-200ER’s black boxes is far more difficult. At the Monday morning press conference, Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Levy explained the issues faced in narrowing the search:
“As you've heard, most of the--all of the detections that are happening at the moment are acoustic, you can think of it essentially as deployed microphones listening for sound and on the Towed Pinger Locater, that's sitting approximately 3,000 meters below the surface of the ocean. Unlike in air where sound travels in a straight line, acoustic energy, sound, through the water is greatly affected by temperature, pressure and salinity. And that has the effect of attenuating, bending, sometimes through 90 degrees, sound waves.”
Even with the black box batteries estimated to expire today, the international task force continues to search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, looking for any sign or the missing airliner, which went missing in the early hours of March 8.