Ships and planes have continued to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared five weeks ago.
On Friday April 11, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was “very confident” that signals detected by Ocean Shield were from MH370’s black boxes.
The Australian-led search for the Boeing 777, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, on March 8 is racing to gather as many signals as possible to determine an exact resting place before the black box beacon’s battery runs out.
The beacons on the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders have a normal battery life of 30 days, although they are expected to last 38 days.
The Joint Agency coordination Centre (JACC) said Saturday that the remote search area where the plane was believed to have gone down was still shrinking.
“Today, Australian defense 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,” JACC said.
Ocean Shield has picked up four signals linked to aircraft black boxes.
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.
Today’s search zone covers 41,393 square kms (15,982 square miles) and the core of the search zone lies 2,330 kms (1,450 miles) northwest of Perth.
However the search zone for pings is much smaller being about 100km square.
“This work continues in an effort to narrow the underwater search area for when the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is deployed,” JACC said adding that there have been no confirmed signal detections over the past 24 hours.
On a trip to China, home to two-thirds of the 239 people on board MH370, PM Abbott suggested the plane might soon be found.
“We have very much narrowed down the search area and we are very confident the signals are from the black box,” Abbott said, while warning that the transmissions were “starting to fade”.
Abbott was speaking in Shanghai before meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometres,” Abbott said.
But he warned much remained to be done in “recovering wreckage from almost 4.5 kilometres beneath the sea, or finally determining all that happened on that flight”.
However after PM Abbott spoke, search Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston struck a more cautious note saying “there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370”.
He said the Ocean Shield would continue to trawl for pings.
“It is vital to glean as much information as possible while the batteries on the underwater locator beacons may still be active,” said ACM Houston, head of the Perth-based JACC that is organizing the challenging search.
A decision to deploy a submersible sonar device “could be some days away”, he said.
No floating debris from the plane has yet been found, the JACC said again on Saturday, despite three weeks of searching in the area by ships and planes from several countries.
Up to 10 aircraft and 14 ships were taking part in the hunt on Saturday, with the weather forecast for isolated showers and sea swells up to one metre, with visibility of five kms during showers.