Prime Minister Tony Abbott has cautioned against coming to “hard and fast conclusions” in the search for flight MH370, after a Chinese ship detected a signal which could be from the plane’s black box.
China’s Xinhua news agency says the “pulse signal” picked up by a black box detector on the vessel Haixun 01 had a frequency of 37.5kHz – identical to the emergency beacon signal emitted by flight recorders.
Australian Air Force planes may be sent to the southern Indian Ocean search area where the signal was recorded – about 1500km northwest of Perth.
But retired armed forces chief Angus Houston, head of Australia’s search co-ordination centre, has warned there is no confirmed link to the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
“The characteristics reported are consistent with the aircraft black box,” he said in a statement.
A number of white objects were also seen on the surface about 90km from the detection area.
“However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft,” he said.
Mr Abbott reminded people that the search was the most difficult in “human history”.
“While we certainly are throwing everything we have at it, and while the best brains and the best technology in the world will be deployed, we need to be very careful about coming to hard and fast conclusions too soon,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said there had been no official confirmation from the Chinese that a signal had been detected.
“But we are seeking more information from the Chinese vessel and from the Chinese authorities about it,” she told ABC television.
She too warned against raising false hopes before the information has been verified.
“We’ve had some evidence of that in the past,” she said.
“I think that we should wait until Angus Houston confirms one way or another as to whether this is a lead that we can follow.”
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 vanished on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, triggering an international search across vast expanses of first the South China Sea and now the Indian Ocean.
False hopes, including sightings of suspected debris that turned out to be random flotsam, have repeatedly punctuated the search for the missing plane, keeping the anguished families of the 239 people aboard on an emotional roller-coaster.
Search teams from eight nations, including Australian and British ships with special detection equipment, are racing against time to find the black box and its vital flight data before the signal fades.
Up to 10 military planes, two civilian aircraft and 13 ships will assist in Sunday’s search for the missing plane, the federal government’s Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre said in a statement.
Three separate search areas were planned, about 2000km northwest of Perth, totalling about 216,000 sq km.
Weather in the search area was expected to be good.