A Royal navy ship was due to arrive in the area where a Chinese ship said it had detected possible “signals” from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 today [UK time] as search coordinators said there had been three reports of possible “pings”.
The HMS Echo, which is towing a pinger locator designed to help locate black boxes, would take around 14 hours to reach the site where China’s Haixun 01 patrol ship made its two discoveries on Friday and Saturday, Australian officials said on Sunday morning local time.
An Australian vessel called Ocean Shield would also be deployed to the same search area once it had verified a separate “acoustic event” it detected on Sunday morning.
“We need HMS Echo and Ocean Shield to come to [the Chinese ship’s] location,” Angus Houston, a retired Chief Marshal from the Royal Australian Air Force who is leading the international search effort, said. “But the fact that we’ve had two detections, two acoustic events in that location provides some promise that requires a full investigation.”
HMS Echo is now one of 13 ships and 12 planes searching three search areas located around 1,240 miles northwest of Perth, officials from Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre said.
Australian officials coordinating the international search for MH370 say they are now investigating three reports that signals potentially related to the missing aircraft’s black box had been detected.
On Sunday, an Australian vessel called the Ocean Shield said its underwater "pinger locator" had detected an “acoustic event” that could be linked to the incident.
That followed claims from China that its Haixun 01 patrol vessel had detected 37.5kHz per second signals on Friday and Saturday that were identical to those used by the locator beacon of a flight recorder.
Mr Houston vowed to exhaust “all avenues of investigation” and described Ocean Shield’s find as “an important and encouraging lead, but one which I urge you to treat carefully.”
“I'm not prepared to speculate on what it might be and what it might not be,” he told a Sunday briefing.
Tony Abbott, Australia’s Prime Minister, described the hunt for MH370 as “the most difficult search in human history” and urged caution over the reported signals.
"We need to be very careful about coming to hard and fast conclusions too soon,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
Thomas Altshuler, the vice president of the company which makes the hand-held “pinger locator” apparently being used by the Chinese crew of Haixun 01 cast doubt on whether such a device would have been able to detect a signal coming from so far beneath the ocean.
“It is possible to detect something at that depth with a hand-held device, but I don’t know how probable,” Mr Altshuler, from Teledyne Marine Systems, was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “You would need to be close. You are not going to be 3,000 meters above it and two miles away.”
Meanwhile, in a further twist to the already perplexing mystery of how and why MH370 vanished, a Malaysian government source claims the plane had been “purposely” flown around Indonesian airspace on its way to the southern Indian Ocean.
The Boeing 777, which was carrying 239 people when it disappeared on March 8, flew north of Indonesia and around that country’s airspace while making its way to the southern Indian Ocean, a senior official, who was not named, was quoted as saying by CNN.
The plane may have been “purposely” navigated along that route in order to avoid radar detection, the source added.
China defended itself from accusations that it had not properly shared information with other countries involved in the search for Flight MH370.
Beijing had responded to the disaster with “an unprecedented mobilization of resources, deploying 21 satellites and sending more than ten vessels and dozens of aircraft to the search zone,” it said. The country had been “actively promoting international cooperation from the start.”
“With the aircraft's inexplicable disappearance still tormenting the families of the passengers aboard, occasional outpourings of grief, disappointment or anger are understandable. However, pointing finger at some country or somebody wouldn't help solve the mystery or safeguard the rights and interests of the victims and their families,” Xinhua added.
Mr Houston, the Australian official, admitted search teams were “running out of time.” “This is day 30 of the search and the advertised time for the life of the batteries is 30 days.”
Malaysia Airlines (MASM.KL) Flight MH370 was most likely on autopilot when it crashed into the Indian Ocean further south than previously thought, Australian officials said on Thursday, as they charted the next phase of a so far fruitless search.
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