A Chinese ship that is part of the multinational search effort looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has detected a “pulse signal” in southern Indian Ocean waters, China’s official news agency said.
The report said a black box detector deployed by the vessel, Haixun 01, picked up a signal at 37.5Hz per second today at around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude.
The report said it was not established whether that the signal was related to the missing jet.
The Australian government agency co-ordinating the search would not immediately comment on the report.
Beacons in the black boxes emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the batteries only last about a month.
It is feared batteries sending signals from the aircraft's black box recorders could run out in two days time.
The news from China comes as search efforts continue for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's acting Transport Minister has denied allegations that the country was complicit in the disappearance of missing flight MH370.
The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 will continue “with the same level of vigour and intensity”, Hishammuddin Hussein said today, nearly a month after the Boeing 777 disappeared.
He added: “We will continue to focus, with all our efforts, on finding the aircraft.”
He said there are no more new satellite images or data that can provide new leads, and the focus is now fully on the ocean search.
Search teams trying to find the flight recorders from the missing jet criss-crossed another patch of the Indian Ocean today, four weeks after the airliner vanished while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
A multinational team is desperately trying to find debris floating in the water or faint sound signals from the recorders that could lead them to the aircraft.
And officials say the more time that passes before any floating wreckage is found, the harder it will be to find the plane itself.
Two ships with sophisticated equipment that can hear the recorders’ pings were deployed for the first time yesterday along a 150-mile route investigators hope may be close to the spot where they believe the plane went down.
Those ships, the Australian navy’s Ocean Shield and the British HMS Echo, were returning to the search area today, along with up to 13 military and civilian planes and nine other ships, the agency co-ordinating the search said.
Weather conditions in the area, which have regularly hampered crews trying to spot debris, were fair with some rain expected, the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre said.
Because the US Navy’s pinger locator can pick up signals to a depth of 20,000ft, it should be able to hear the plane’s data recorders even if they are in the deepest part of the search zone – about 19,000ft.
But that is only if the locator gets within range of the black boxes – a tough task, given the size of the search area and the fact that the pinger locator must be dragged slowly through the water at just one to five knots.
Officials said there was no specific information that led to the underwater devices being used for the first time yesterday, but that they were brought into the effort because there was nothing to lose.
Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the joint agency co-ordinating the operation, acknowledged the search area was essentially a best guess, and noted the time when the plane’s locator beacons would shut down was “getting pretty close”.
Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on currents to try to backtrack to where the plane hit the water, and where the flight recorders may be.
The overall search area is an 84,000-square-mile zone in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,100 miles north-west of the western Australian city of Perth.
The search area has shifted each day as investigators continue to analyse what little radar and satellite data is available while factoring in where any debris may have drifted.
Australia is co-ordinating the ocean search, and the investigation into the plane’s disappearance is Malaysia’s responsibility.
Australia, the US, Britain and China have all agreed to be “accredited representatives” of the investigation.
Meanwhile, the Air Line Pilots Association, a union which represents 30,000 pilots in North America, said that the Malaysia Airlines tragedy should lead to higher standards of plane tracking technology being adopted by the airline industry.