PERTH, Australia (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — An Australian aircraft hunting for the missing Malaysian jet picked up a new possible underwater signal on Thursday in the same area search crews detected sounds earlier in the week that were consistent with an aircraft’s black boxes.
The Australian navy P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sound-locating buoys into the water near where the original sounds were heard, picked up a “possible signal” that may be from a man-made source, said Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search off Australia’s west coast.
“The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight,” Houston said in a statement.
If confirmed, this would be the fifth underwater signal picked up in the hunt for Flight 370, which vanished over a month ago on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.
On Tuesday, the Australian vessel Ocean Shield picked up two underwater sounds, and an analysis of two other sounds detected in the same general area on Saturday showed they were consistent with a plane’s flight recorders, or “black boxes.”
The Australian navy has been dropping buoys from planes in a pattern near where the Ocean Shield’s signals were heard.
Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy is dangling a hydrophone listening device about 1,000 feet below the surface. The hope, he said, is the buoys will help better pinpoint the signals.
CBS News’ Seth Doane reported that authorities have been hoping to detect as many of these signals as possible while the missing Boeing 777’s black boxes still have some battery life. The batteries are meant to last at least a month after contact with water. Tuesday marked the one-month mark, so the rush to detect pings from the boxes has intensified as any signals being emitted will begin to fade fast.
Doane said as many as 14 aircraft were crisscrossing over the search area Thursday scanning the ocean’s surface for any sign of debris.
So far, the four audio signals picked up in the search area have been detected by the U.S. Navy’s hi-tech “Towed Pinger Locator,” or TPL — which is being dragged through the water by the Australian navy ship “Ocean shield.”
“The goal is to maximize the use of the TPL to get any sort of detection we can while there’s still the potential for the black box batteries to have life,” explained Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
As soon as officials believe they’ve narrowed the search area as much as possible with the detected pings, Marks said they will launch the “Bluefin-21,” an underwater vehicle equipped with side-scanning-sonar.
“The Bluefin-21 actually paints a picture of the ocean floor,” said Marks. “It is a much more deliberate and planned out and methodical operation, and it may take… you may go a whole day and search, maybe one square mile.”
The search zone has been narrowed significantly. On Thursday, it was the smallest to date at just over 22,000 square miles, but that’s still about the size of West Virginia.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said recently that terrorism could not be ruled out.
“I don’t think at this point we can rule anything in or out. I think we have to continue to search, as we are,” Hagel said. “And you know the United States continues to stay committed.”
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