The location of the black box flight recorder of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight has been narrowed down to “some kilometres”, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.
Mr Abbott told business leaders in Shanghai on Friday that although the search in the Indian Ocean was narrowing, authorities were still a long way from recovering any wreckage of MH370.
“We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometres,” Mr Abbott said.
“Still, confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage from almost four and a half kilometres beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on that flight.”
Mr Abbott personally briefed Chinese president Xi Jinping, whose country lost 154 of the 239 passengers, about the search, warning him there could be a long and painstaking road ahead.
The PM updated President Xi on the Australian-led search effort in the Indian Ocean during a bilateral meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“Long, slow and painstaking process”
He didn’t mince words, warning his Chinese counterpart there was still a long way to go.
“This will be a very long, slow and painstaking process,” he said.
He thanked President Xi for being the first leader to send ships to assist with the search once it shifted to the Indian Ocean.
President Xi thanked Australia for spearheading the search, and said China would remain in “close communication and cooperation” as they continued assisting the search.
“We would like to offer our sincere appreciation,” he said through a translator.
Mr Abbott’s comments, however, seemed to be contradicted by Australian search coordinator, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who said a signal detected by an Orion aircraft on Thursday was not related to MH370’s locator beacon.
“No major breakthrough”
“On the information I have available to me, there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370,” Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
Mr Abbott’s initial expression of confidence at a press conference in Shanghai were quickly followed by Air Chief Marshal Houston’s apparent contradiction.
But the prime minister repeated his comments in a speech to business leaders after the former defence chief’s statement.
The Australian vessel Ocean Shield has to date recorded four signals in the same search area.
But there are concerns the black box’s batteries, which have a life of around 30 days, will die within days.
Saturday will mark five weeks since flight MH370 and its passengers and crew disappeared.
The Ocean Shield on Friday was in an area about 2200km northwest of Perth continuing sweeps of its pinger locator to detect further signals.
Signals starting to fade
Orion aircraft were also continuing their acoustic searches.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Shanghai the area had been “very much narrowed down” by the ping detections.
“Nevertheless, we’re getting to the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade,” he said.
“We are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.”
He said Australia was determined to solve what is one of the great mysteries of modern times.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said the Ocean Shield was doing more focused sweeps of the towed pinger locator in a bid to find further signals.
Orions continue acoustic search
The vessel detected signals on Saturday and Tuesday in the northern end of the search zone, more than 2200 kilometres northwest of Perth.
“It is vital to glean as much information as possible while the batteries on the underwater locator beacons may still be active,” Mr Houston said on Friday.
The AP-3C Orions continue their acoustic search, working in conjunction with Ocean Shield, with three more missions planned for the day.
Mr Houston said a decision as to when to deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle Bluefin-21 would be made on advice from experts on board the Ocean Shield and could be some days away.