Authorities are confident that signals detected deep in the Indian Ocean are from the missing Malaysian jet’s black boxes, Australia’s prime minister said Friday, raising hopes they are close to solving one of aviation’s most perplexing mysteries.
PERTH, Australia — Tony Abbott told reporters in Shanghai that crews hunting for Flight 370 have zeroed in on a more targeted area in their search for the source of the sounds, first heard on Saturday.
“We have very much narrowed down the search area and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370,” Abbott said.
“Nevertheless, we’re getting into the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade,” he added. “We are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.”
The plane’s black boxes, or flight data and cockpit voice recorders, may hold the answers to why the Boeing 777 lost communications and veered so far off course when it vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board.
Search crews are racing against time because the batteries powering the devices’ locator beacons last only about a month — and more than a month has passed since the plane disappeared. Finding the black boxes after the batteries fail will be extremely difficult because the water in the area is 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) deep.
The Australian ship Ocean Shield is towing a U.S. Navy device that detects black box signals, and two sounds it heard Saturday were determined to be consistent with the signals emitted from aircraft flight recorders. Two more sounds were detected in the same general area on Tuesday.
“We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers,” Abbott said. “But confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage from almost 4 ½ kilometers beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on that flight.”
Abbott also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday and briefed him on the search. Two-thirds of the passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, and their relatives have been critical of the Malaysian government’s handling of the crisis.
“This will be a very long, slow and painstaking process,” Abbott told Xi.
Up to 15 aircraft and 13 ships coordinated in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Friday, one day after an Australian AP-3C Orion aircraft detected another suspected signal.
Search operation continued for the missing airliner in the southern Indian Ocean on Friday, with ships of Australia and other countries at the east end of the designated search area, and six Chinese ships at the west end.
The east zone covered an area of 5,556 square kilometers, 1,852 kilometers from Australia, while the west zone, located 130 kilometers from the east zone, covered an area of 18,520 square kilometers, according to Australian authorities.
Participating in the operation were South China Sea Rescue 115, East China Sea Rescue 101, patrol ship Haixun 01 as well as Chinese naval vessels Jinggangshan, Haikou and Kunlunshan.
“Soon after finding suspicious floating objects in the sea from the air, the air force will inform our navy ships of the exact longitude and latitude and size of the floating objects. We will then head for the targeted area for searching,” said Liu Zhonghu, captain of the Chinese navy vessel Jinggangshan.
Chinese supply ship “Qiandaohu” headed for the task area to meet with the navy vessel Jinggangshan Friday afternoon after having replenishment in Albany port of Australia.
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777, carrying 239 people, including 154 Chinese, went missing shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur on way to Beijing on March 8. The search, now narrowed down to an area in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia’s western coast, is being coordinated by Australia.
Malaysian Minister of Home Affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Thursday that police have now widened their investigation on missing Flight MH370 to a new scope, and is now including personnel such as ground crew members, custom officers, and relatives of the plane’s crew in its investigation.
The minister made the comment at a news briefing in Kuala Lumpur. He cited that the investigation has been carried out on a hypothesis of possible hijacking, and the Royal Malaysian Police have expanded their investigation after ruling out the 227 passengers on board.
The investigation is focused on the personnel’s mental status, private issues, and possible motivations of hijacking or damaging the plane.
Hamidi also confirmed that the Malaysian police are cooperating with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the areas of information exchange and consultation with experts.
He said the police have gathered some leads through the investigation of more than 180 people, however, he cannot release them at present.
“The Royal Malaysian Police is still investigating. And there is no conclusive evidence yet. As you are aware, about 180 persons have been interviewed and we are filtering all the information. When the evidence is conclusive, then we will let the media know about it,” said Hamidi.
“We can not reveal yet because the investigation is not conclusive yet,” he added.
Previously, the Malaysian acting Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein said that the Malaysian authorities decided not to make the results of the investigation public out of respect for the of feelings the relatives of the passengers and crew members.
This report compiled with information from The Associated Press and CCTV News.