PERTH: There was no let-up in the air and sea search for the missing Malaysian airliner off Australia yesterday as Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned that locating Flight MH370 would still likely take a long time.
Abbott appeared to step back from his comments on Friday when he voiced great confidence that signals from the black box had been detected — his most upbeat assessment so far that triggered speculation that a breakthrough was imminent.
Retired air chief marshal Angus Houston, who heads the hunt from Perth, had quickly issued a statement clarifying that there had been no breakthrough.
Yesterday, Abbott repeated his confidence in the search, but put the accent on the challenges ahead.
“We do have a high degree of confidence the transmissions we have been picking up are from flight MH370,” Abbott said on the last day of his visit to China.
But he added, “no one should under-estimate the difficulties of the task ahead of us.
“Yes we have very considerably narrowed down the search area but trying to locate anything 4.5 kilometres beneath the surface of the ocean about a thousand kilometres from land is a massive, massive task and it is likely to continue for a long time to come.”
The Australian-led search for the Boeing 777, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is racing to gather as many signals as possible to determine an exact resting place before a submersible is sent down to find wreckage.
On yesterday’s operations, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said: “Australian defence vessel Ocean Shield continues more focused sweeps with the towed pinger locator to try and locate further signals related to the aircraft’s black boxes.”
Ocean Shield has picked up four signals linked to aircraft black boxes, with the first two analysed as being consistent with those from aircraft flight recorders.
The beacons on the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders have a normal battery lifespan of around 30 days. MH370 vanished on March 8.
AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft were also carrying out acoustic searches in conjunction with Ocean Shield, the statement said, adding that the British oceanographic ship HMS Echo was also working in the area.
Yesterday’s total search zone covers 41,393 square kilometres and the core of the search zone lies 2,330 kilometres northwest of Perth.
“This work continues in an effort to narrow the underwater search area for when the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is deployed,” JACC said.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein yesterday said he would request that two officials from the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation be sent to join the JACC.