Earlier, Australia’s acting prime minister, Warren Truss, had said the Bluefin 21 autonomous sub would be launched yesterday, but a spokesman for Truss said later that the conflicting information was a misunderstanding, and Truss acknowledged the sub was not being used immediately.
Houston earlier said the two sounds heard Saturday and Sunday are consistent with the pings from an aircraft’s black boxes.
Defense Minister David Johnston called the sounds the most positive lead and said it was being pursued vigorously. Still, officials warned it could take days to determine whether the sounds were connected to the plane that vanished March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 on board.
“This is an herculean task — it’s over a very, very wide area, the water is extremely deep,” Johnston said. “We have at least several days of intense action ahead of us.”
Houston also warned of past false leads — such as ships detecting their own signals. Because of that, other ships are being kept away, so as not to add unwanted noise.
“We’re very hopeful we will find further evidence that will confirm the aircraft is in that location,” Houston said. “There’s still a little bit of doubt there, but I’m a lot more optimistic than I was one week ago.”
Such optimism was overshadowed by anguish at a hotel in Beijing where around 300 relatives of the flight’s passengers — most of whom were Chinese — wait for information about the plane’s fate.
One family lit candles on a heart-shaped cake to mark what would have been the 21st birthday of passenger Feng Dong, who had been working in construction in Singapore for the past year and was flying home to China via Kuala Lumpur. Feng’s mother wept as she blew out the candles.