PERTH, Australia — U.S. Navy equipment has picked up signals consistent with the pings from aircraft black boxes, an Australian search official said Monday, describing the discovery as "a most promising lead" in the month-long hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
Angus Houston, the head of a joint agency coordinating the search in the southern Indian Ocean, called it "very encouraging" but warned it may take days to confirm whether signals picked up by the ship Ocean Shield are indeed from the flight recorders on Flight 370.
"Clearly this is a most promising lead, and probably in the search so far, it's the probably the best information that we have had," Houston said at a news conference.
The Australian navy's Ocean Shield, which is carrying high-tech sound detectors from the U.S. Navy, picked up two separate signals within a remote patch of the Indian Ocean far off the west Australian coast that search crews have been crisscrossing for weeks. The first signal lasted two hours and 20 minutes before it was lost. The ship then turned around and picked up a signal again — this time recording two distinct "pinger returns" that lasted 13 minutes, Houston said.
"Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder," Houston said.
He said the position of the noise needs to be further refined, and then an underwater autonomous vehicle can be sent in to investigate.
"It could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH370," Houston said. "In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast."
After a month-long hunt for answers filled with dead ends, Monday's news brought fresh hope. The two black boxes, which contain flight data and cockpit voice recordings, are the key to unraveling exactly what happened to Flight 370 and why.