Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 search teams' hopes soar as black boxes search narrows

Written by PTI | Perth/Beijing | Updated: Apr 12 2014, 03:56am hrs
MalaysiaThe mystery of the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 Boeing 777-200 continued to baffle aviation and security authorities.
Search for the missing Malaysian plane is homing in on the black boxes, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today said, even as the official heading the hunt for Flight MH370 cautioned there was "no major breakthrough".

Abbott said searchers are "confident" about the position of the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 jet's black box and they have narrowed down the search area based on a series of signals detected recently.

Abbott, who arrived in Beijing today, met Chinese President Xi Jinping and briefed him about the Australia-led multi-nation search for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

He told Xi that he had "high-level confidence of strong detections" of the black boxes but there were huge challenges remaining in what would likely be a "long, slow and painstaking process" to locate it.

The Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 - carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals - had mysteriously vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

Abbott told Xi about the four pings consistent with that of a black box had been identified and that the search area had narrowed to just a matter of kilometres in the southern Indian Ocean.

"We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometres (miles)."

However, the head of the agency coordinating the search sounded a note of caution in Perth, saying there had been "no major breakthrough".

"On the information I have available to me, there has been no major breakthrough in the search for Malaysian Airlines MH370 plane," Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) which is leading the search.

Houston said, "I will provide a further update if, and when, further information becomes available."

Fifteen aircraft and 13 ships were deployed to search the missing plane today, a day after an Australian AP-3C Orion aircraft detected another ping signal.

Abbott said the missing of the plane "is one of the great mysteries of our time," and "it is probably the most difficult search in human history."

"Amidst tragedy, though, there is hope," he said.

The mystery of the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 Boeing 777-200 continued to baffle aviation and security authorities who have so far not succeeded in tracking the aircraft despite deploying hi-tech radar and other gadgets even after searching for 35 days.

"Nevertheless, we're getting to the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade. We are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires," Abbott said.

Abbott also offered support to the Chinese relatives mourning their loved ones who were on the plane.

"I grieve with all the bereaved, especially the family and friends of the 154 Chinese victims, and I offer them the assurance that Australia will not rest until we have done everything we can to provide comfort and closure," he said.

The most recent acoustic signal detected by an Australian aircraft yesterday is "unlikely to be related to the aircraft black boxes," Houston said.

This was the fifth signal that was detected recently.

Australian ship Ocean Shield towing a pinger locater reacquired two signals on Tuesday after detecting two on Saturday. The signals on Saturday were found to be consistent with aircraft black boxes.

Finding the black box is crucial to know what happened on March 8 before the plane disappeared in midair.

The batteries powering the black box are certified to be working for 30 days. Stored in a plane's tail, they are designed to begin sending off distinct, high-pitched signals as soon as they come in contact with water.

"A decision as to when to deploy the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle will be made on advice from experts on board the Ocean Shield and could be some days away," Houston said.

Meanwhile, China praised Australia and Malaysia for the efforts being put in to conduct coordinated search operations.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed China's appreciation for Australia's efforts in searching for the missing plane.

Malaysia says China delays sending 2 giant pandas

(AP) China has postponed the transfer of two giant pandas to Malaysia out of respect for the families of passengers on missing Flight 370, a government minister said Friday.

The Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared on March 8 had 239 people on board, 153 of them Chinese.

The pandas were originally due in Malaysia next Wednesday. Natural Resources and Environment Minister G.Palanivel said the pandas are expected to arrive before May 31 when the two countries mark their 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties, though no firm date has been set.

''Because of the MH370 incident, the arrival of the pandas has been postponed,'' he said.

Palanivel said the delay was made to respect the feelings of families as the search for the plane reaches a crucial stage. Sounds detected in the southern Indian Ocean since last Saturday are suspected to be the locator beacons on the jet's black boxes, raising hopes searchers are close to finding the plane and solving the mystery of why it disappeared.

''During this difficult time, it seems inappropriate to arrange for the sending off and the arrival of the pandas in Malaysia,'' he added.

China has long used ''panda diplomacy'' to make friends and influence people in other countries.

The pandas, Feng Yi and Fu Wa, are to be on loan to Malaysia for 10 years.

Malaysia has said it spent 25 million ringgit ($7.7 million) on an air-conditioned conservation complex including two bamboo fields at the national zoo outside Kuala Lumpur to house the pandas.

Some of the passengers' relatives and other Chinese have expressed anger over Malaysia's perceived mishandling of the plane's disappearance. The kidnapping of a Chinese woman from a Malaysian island resort in early April was also a blow to the country's image in China.

Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz told local media that at least 30,000 Chinese tourists have cancelled their holiday plans to Malaysia since the plane disappeared. Some 1.6 million Chinese tourists visited Malaysia last year.