Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 search teams in the Indian Ocean are beginning to fear electronic pings thought to be coming from the plane’s black box weren’t originating from the missing plane.
Senior Australian naval Commander James Lybrand said this week that he “increasingly suspects” the series of signals detected to the west of Australia last month had nothing to do with the plane, and that two of them picked up by the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin-21 underwater drone were too weak to have originated from a man-made device.
On April 5 the Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two signals at a frequency of 33.5kHz, and two more at 27kHz on April 8. While black box locator beacons emit a higher frequency of 37.5kHz, investigators initially suspected the weaker signals were merely a result of the box’s dying batteries (which are designed to last 30 days) or “vagaries of deep-sea conditions.”
“As far as frequency goes, between 33 kHz and 27 kHz is a pretty large jump,” Lybrand, who captains the Ocean Shield, said.
However searchers still believe the two April 5 signals – one of which held for more than two hours – are still possible leads.
While Lybrand did not speculate on possible causes behind the weaker April 8 signals, a recent Daily Mail report points out that dolphins can produce echolocation signals between 0.2kHz and 150kHz to sonically survey their environment.
According to experts, lower frequency vocalizations between about 0.2 and 50kHz are used for social communication, while 40 to 150 kHz are used for “spacial awareness.”
“We’re now getting to the stage from where the black box is starting to fade,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said days after the signals were detected. “We’re hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.”
At the time Abbott said he was “very confident” the signals originated from Flight 370’s black box.
“I really don’t want to give any more information than that at this stage… as a sign of respect to the Chinese people and their families.”
Inmarsat, the British satellite telecommunications company that assisted in tracking the Boeing 777’s last flight path, announced Monday it would begin offering free basic tracking service to 11,000 commercial passenger aircraft equipped with Inmarsat satellite connection to prevent another MH370 scenario. The offer will encompass virtually all of the world’s long-range commercial fleet.
“In the wake of the loss of MH370, we believe this is simply the right thing to do,” Inmarsat Chief Executive Rupert Pearce said. “This offer responsibly, quickly and at little or no cost to the industry, addresses in part the problem brought to light by the recent tragic events around MH370.”
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, and no physical trace of the plane has been found despite the more than two-month, multi-agency international search effort.