Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Australian PM warns 'black box signals' are fading rapidly

Tony Abbot spoke as search teams face a race against time

The race against time to find the black boxes that hold vital clues to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continues five weeks after it went missing.

Signals from their locator beacons are fading and the aircraft data and voice recordings from the cockpit they contain could be lost forever if their batteries die before they can be recovered.

Ships and aeroplanes are still hunting for any wreckage from the airliner, which disappeared on 8 March during its journey from from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Australia's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said he was "very confident" that signals detected by an Australian ship were coming from the black boxes but no more have been heard.

Speaking in China, Mr Abbott said signals were "rapidly fading" and crews were battling to get as much information as possible before they stop completely.

“No one should underestimate the difficulties of the task still ahead of us,” he added.

“We have very considerably narrowed down the search area, but trying to locate anything 4.5 kilometers beneath the surface of the ocean about 1,000 kilometers from land is a massive, massive task and it is likely to continue for a long time to come.”

The batteries powering the boxes' locator beacons were expected to last a month and the chances of finding them are looking increasingly slim.

Read more: What is a black box and how do you find one? Searching for the last remains of MH370

A ship called Ocean Shield towing a US navy detection device first picked up two underwater sounds last Saturday, which were later determined to be consistent with the pings emitted from the flight recorders.

The ship's equipment detected two more sounds in the same area on Tuesday.

An Australian air force P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sonar buoys into the water near where four sounds were heard earlier, picked up another “possible signal” on Thursday, but Angus Houston, who is co-ordinating the search for Flight 370 off Australia's west coast, said an initial assessment of the signal had determined it was not related to an aircraft black box.

Thursday's search area in the Indian Ocean, west of Australia, where 14 planes and 13 ships are scouring a 22,000 square-mile stretch of water for the wreckage of flight MH370 Thursday's search area in the Indian Ocean, west of Australia, where 14 planes and 13 ships are scouring a 22,000 square-mile stretch of water for the wreckage of flight MH370  

Read more: Australian PM 'very confident' black box position narrowed down

He said the Ocean Shield was continuing to use its towed locator to trace additional signals over a 500-square-mile patch of the ocean floor.

“It is vital to glean as much information as possible while the batteries on the underwater locator beacons may still be active,” he said. “The AP-3C Orions continue their acoustic search, working in conjunction with Ocean Shield.”

Searchers want to pinpoint the exact location of the source of the sounds - or as close as they can get - and then send down a robotic submersible to look for wreckage.

The submarine will not be deployed until officials are confident there are no other electronic signals.

The Bluefin 21 submersible takes six times longer to cover the area as the ping locator and would need six weeks to two months to canvass the current underwater zone.

The signals are coming from 15,000ft below the surface, which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive. The search co-ordination centre was considering options in case a deeper-diving sub is needed.

Up to 10 planes and 14 ships are still scouring 16,000 square miles of the ocean surface extending from about 1,400 miles north west of Perth for floating debris.

Additional reporting by PA

Read more:
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: 'Everyone on board remains under suspicion'
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says government is concealing information

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before