#MissingFlight370: What Next as Pinger Signals Not Heard Since Weekend?

The chief of the Australian agency coordinating the search, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, has dampened the hope of finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, Flight 370, soon as he revealed Tuesday that the pinger signals have not been heard again since the weekend.

A Chinese air force plane involved in the search for the Malaysia Airlines plane believed to had crashed into the Indian Ocean had spotted a number of floating objects in the search area last Saturday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said.

The signals “in the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane could not be verified at this point in time,” retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston had said.

“The characteristics reported are consistent with the aircraft black box. A number of white objects were also sighted on the surface about 90 kilometers from the detection area. However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft,” Houston had said.

Next Steps Underwater Search

An Australian navy ship is expected to keep searching a small area as it is trying to regain a signal that it picked up Sunday that could be from Flight 370.

If it detects the pings again, it will deploy an underwater vehicle that can look for wreckage. But without a new signal, the possible area will be larger and take longer to search.

The pings detected by the crew aboard an Australian navy ship in the southern Indian Ocean had given those searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 renewed hopes of finding the missing plane.

The Ocean Shield, an Australian navy ship that’s slowly towing a pinger locator through the water, is going back and forth over the area where it twice picked up a signal Sunday.

“The focus is on trying to reacquire the acoustic signal they had 24 hours ago,” said Commodore Peter Leavy, who is coordinating military contributions to the search.

As of Monday morning, the high-tech pinger locator, supplied by the U.S. Navy, hadn’t redetected the pings, officials said.

“Probably for the next 24 hours, Ocean Shield will continue its runs back and forth over the area,” Houston said.

Why Crisscrossing Same Area?

The aim is to use triangulation to pinpoint the location of whatever is transmitting the pings, according to Cmdr. William Marks of the U.S. 7th Fleet. “For us in the Navy, this is kind of our bread and butter,” he said.

The crew of the ship does this by towing the pinger locator along a series of intersecting lines across a relatively small area of ocean.

If the sound is picked up along three different lines that cross at the same point, “that’s a pretty positive indication of where the signal’s coming from,” Marks said.

But it’s a slow and painstaking business. By the end of its runs Tuesday, Ocean Shield expects to have thoroughly covered only a 3-mile-by-3-mile box, according to Leavy.

Each run across the area takes the ship seven to eight hours. That’s because it’s moving slowly — at about 3 knots (3.5 mph) — and because turning around with the huge length of cable that’s dragging the pinger locator through the ocean depths is a delicate, drawn-out process.

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