KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A vessel detected transmissions consistent with flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorders, possibly from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the chief of the team coordinating the search for plane said Monday.
“Clearly this is a most promising lead,” the investigator, Angus Houston, said at a news conference from Perth, Australia. But he added that it might take some days to confirm that the acoustic noises were from the missing plane.
The Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, had twice detected signals in the Indian Ocean thought to be from the plane’s data and cockpit voice recorders, Houston said.
The signals were “consistent with those emitted by aircraft black boxes.” But he noted that might take officials several days to confirm that the acoustic noises were from the missing plane.
“In deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast,” he added.
Even with Houston’s caveats, however, the announcement offered the most hope so far that after more than four weeks of fruitless searching across vast areas of sea and land in the Eastern Hemisphere, officials might finally be zeroing in on concrete evidence of the plane and its fate.
A discovery of the plane using the sonic technology would be extraordinary considering that the batteries in the black boxes are expected to expire as soon as this week. Once the batteries are dead, the boxes’ sonic beacons will cease operating, making the discovery of undersea wreckage far more difficult.
Search forces deployed the underwater listening technology beginning only last Friday in a last-ditch effort to try to hear the black boxes’ signals before they faded.
The Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board after it veered off its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, disappearing from civilian and military radar. Based on the analysis of satellite data, officials concluded that the flight ended somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
Further data analysis has refined the search coordinates and in the past week and a half, the search, which has included a flotilla of ships and daily reconnaissance flights by aircraft from several nations, has focused on an broad swath of the Indian Ocean hundreds of miles off the coast of Western Australia.
Despite these efforts, no confirmed debris has been found.
Before the announcement on Monday, searchers’ hope had shifted over the weekend to a spot about 375 southwest of Ocean Shield, and about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, where a Chinese ship in the search flotilla had reported that it had captured two signals thought to be from the flight’s black boxes.
A ship from the British navy also equipped with sophisticated underwater sensors had been diverted from another area in the Indian Ocean to investigate the findings of the Chinese vessel, Haixun 01.
Australian officials reported last week that an alert sounded on a British Royal Navy vessel, Echo, which is equipped with black-box detection equipment, but that the signal turned out to be false.
HMS Echo was sent to the location of Haixun 01’s discovery to “discount or confirm” the detections, Houston said.
The ship had arrived on Monday morning. Ocean Shield would follow after it had thoroughly investigated the sonic occurrence it detected on Sunday, he said. Ocean Shield was more than 24 hours away, Houston said during the midday news conference.