Two new underwater signals have been detected during a search of the Indian Ocean for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, an Australian official said Wednesday, raising hopes wreckage of the plane will be found soon.
Equipment on board Australian navy vessel Ocean Shield first detected signal "pings" consistent with a plane's black box late Saturday and early Sunday before losing them. On Tuesday, the ship reacquired the signals twice for several minutes, Joint Agency Coordination Center chief Angus Houston said in a news conference.
"What we've got is a great lead," Houston said. "I'm now optimistic we will find the aircraft, or what's left of the aircraft, in the not too distant future — but we haven't found it yet, because this is a very challenging business."
The new sounds detected Tuesday were weaker than the first ones, he said, possibly due to the batteries on the black box fading after more than 30 days of transmission.
An acoustic analysis of the sounds detected during the search determined the signals were received at 33.331 kHz at an interval of 1.106 seconds, consistent with a plane's flight data recorder, he said.
U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews said he believed the signals heard were consistent with an underwater beacon and a "man-made device."
After the new signals were detected, officials narrowed the search area for the missing Malaysian jet to 29,000 square miles. Up to 11 military aircraft, four civil aircraft, and 14 ships are assisting in the hunt.
China state media reported Wednesday multiple floating objects were spotted by aircraft close to where the Australian ship detected the signals, officials at Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 said. The objects were reportedly spotted near the coordinates 20º south latitude, 98º east longitude, but officials at the coordination center did not confirm the sighting.
"I think we are looking in the right area but I am not prepared to confirm anything until such time someone lays eyes on the wreckage," Houston said.
A small autonomous submarine will be deployed to chart a potential debris field on the seafloor when all search possibilities on the surface have been exhausted, he said. Houston said it would take the sub six times longer to cover the same area than it does the towed pinger on Ocean Shield. The ocean is about 14,500 feet deep in the area.
"We hope we find something on the surface of the ocean that confirms the aircraft entered the water at this location," Houston said.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 8 went it mysteriously vanished on the way to Beijing. No debris from the plane has been found to date.