KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — Aviation experts believe that Australian officials are certain they have located the lost Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, missing for 33 days now, after picking up more signals in the Indian Ocean from what is believed to be the aircraft’s flight data recorder.
Speaking live on CNN earlier today, aviation expert Richard Quest said he believes the authorities have a “high degree of credibility” on their latest find, and were only maintaining a cautious front for the sake of the families of the 239 people on board.
“They know where that plane is now,” he said. “They’ve got one level deeper. They’ve got the experts who know this backwards basically.”
Safety analyst David Soucie said the note of caution from Australia was likely out of consideration for the next-of-kin, who have been struggling through a month of numerous false leads in the hunt for their loved ones.
“They can’t give anything other than facts,” he pointed out, despite agreeing that the latest information looks to be a positive development in the search.
“This is my supposition but experts are saying ‘this is it’... but he is being the last level of caution,” Quest added, referring to Angus Houston, the retired Australian air force marshal currently leading search teams in the Indian Ocean.
Houston told a press conference in Perth this morning that Australia’s Ocean Shield picked up two more signals from the ocean yesterday.
The signals, detected by the US-supplied towed pinger locator (TPL) attached to the Ocean Shield, were picked up hours apart, he said, with the first at 4.45pm yesterday, lasting all of five minutes and 32 seconds, and a second time at 10.17pm the same day, lasting seven minutes.
“I believe we are searching in the right area but we need to visually identify aircraft wreckages before we can confirm with certainty that this is the final resting place of MH370,” he said in the news conference broadcast live on CNN.
Houston also said data analysis of the previous two signal detections have returned “promising” results, showing the pulses were registered at a 33.331 kHz frequency, which is consistent with transmissions that would come from the aircraft’s recorders.
They were “distinct and clear”, he added, and had consistently pulsed at a 1.106 second interval.
Expert analysis by Australia’s Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre also showed that the transmission was not of natural original and was likely sourced from specific electronic equipment, Houston said.
“They believe this is consistent with the specifications of a flight data recorder,” he added.
Boeing 777 captain Les Abend agreed with Quest’s assertion, pointing out that during the press conference, Houston had appeared to be more relaxed than before.
“That would be confidence, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Former Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo noted that Houston had also said the latest signals indicated that searchers are looking for MH370 in the correct part of the Indian Ocean.
She also agreed that the search teams should exhaust all avenues searching for the missing aircraft on the surface of the water first, before deploying the autonomous underwater vehicle to scour the ocean floor.
“It would certainly simplify the length of the search,” she said.
Houston had said earlier that the TPL was still the search team’s best bet for now in the hunt for MH370 as the pulses picked up would at least help narrow down the search zone to a more manageable area before the authorities can consider deploying the less reliable autonomous underwater vehicle.
“It is important to note that Ocean Shield can search six times the area with the towed pinger locator than with the autonomous vehicle.
“Searching underwater is a laborious task... so the more work we can do on the surface with the TPL, the less work we have to do below the surface, scouring the ocean floor,” he said.
Once MH370’s black boxes go completely silent, however, searchers will have little choice but to rely on the Bluefin-21 submersible to meticulously scour the Indian Ocean inch by inch to try and find the missing plane.
With search area spanning tens of thousands of square kilometres, the odds of the US-supplied submersible stumbling onto parts of MH370 are astronomically low.
Trundling along at just 8km per hour, the sub is capable of staying submerged to 20 hours and covering just 80km at best in a day.
Then it requires a slow climb back to the surface before search teams are able to download the information it recorded for playback.
At its deepest, the waters in the area go as deep as 4,500m, coincidentally the theoretical maximum depth Bluefin-21 is capable of reaching.
The first of the electronic pulses supposedly from MH370’s black boxes was registered last Friday by the Chinese Haixun 01. A second signal was picked again on Saturday.
The same day, Ocean Shield detected more acoustic noises from the vast ocean swath, offering searchers more hope in the month-long hunt for the missing aircraft.
MH370 went missing shortly after departing Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing on March 8 and remains missing despite an international search involving over two-dozen countries.
The Beijing-bound plane was ferrying 239 people on board.