PERTH: No further pings from what may be the black box recorders of a missing Malaysia Airlines jet have been detected after a weekend of hopeful leads, as search teams “throw everything” into finding the aircraft before the black box batteries are expected to die, investigators have said.
The hunt for flight MH370, which disappeared from radar screens shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur one month ago, has narrowed to about one-third of its original search size in an area of the southern Indian Ocean roughly 1,000 miles north-west of Perth, where the supposed pings were picked up over the weekend by an Australian vessel.
“We have at least several days of intense actions ahead of us,” Australia’s defence minister, David Johnston, said yesterday. “We’re throwing everything at this difficult, complex task.”
A US navy “pinger locator” on board Australia’s Ocean Shield detected two signals on Sunday apparently consistent with black box locator pings, one for over two hours and the second for 13 minutes. Investigators described the signals as the best lead in the plane’s hunt to date, which has been fraught with false leads and sightings of possible debris that later turned out to be unrelated to the missing aircraft.
But investigators are in a race against time as the batteries in the Boeing 777’s black box beacons are already two days past their expected 30-day battery life. Although some batteries can continue on for longer, it is unknown just how much longer this aircraft’s batteries might last.
“We need to continue ... for several days right up to when the point at which there’s absolutely no doubt that the pinger batteries will have expired,” said Angus Houston, who heads the Australian agency co-ordinating the search for MH370. “If we don’t get any further transmissions, we have a reasonably large search area of the bottom of the ocean to prosecute and that will take a long time. It’s very slow, painstaking work.”
The plane’s black boxes, which record data from the cockpit, are hoped to explain why MH370 diverted away from its scheduled route to Beijing, flying back over Malaysian territory and out towards the southern Indian Ocean. Malaysian authorities believe the plane was deliberately diverted by someone familiar with the aircraft but have not yet found any conclusive evidence to prove foul play.