“We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers,” Abbott said. “But confidence in the approximate position of the black box is not the same as recovering wreckage from almost 4½ kilometers beneath the sea or finally determining all that happened on that flight.”
Abbott told the Chinese leader that the next steps will be a “very long, slow and painstaking process.”
An Australian air force P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sonar buoys into the water near where the Ocean Shield picked up the sounds, detected another possible signal Thursday, but Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search, said in a statement that an initial assessment had determined it was not related to an aircraft black box.
The Ocean Shield towed its ping locator to try to find additional signals yesterday, and the Orions were continuing their hunt, Houston said. The underwater search zone is currently a 1500-square-mile patch of the seabed, about the size of the city of Los Angeles.
“It is vital to glean as much information as possible while the batteries on the underwater locator beacons may still be active,” Houston said in a statement.
The searchers want to pinpoint the exact location of the source of the signals so they can send down a robotic submersible to look for wreckage. A decision to use the sub could be “some days away,” Houston said.
The Bluefin 21 submersible takes six times longer to cover the same area as the ping locator being towed by the Ocean Shield — about six weeks to two months to canvass the current underwater zone.
Complicating matters is the depth of the seabed in that area. The signals are emanating from 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) below the surface, which is the deepest the Bluefin can dive. The search coordination center said it was considering options in case a deeper-diving sub is needed.
The surface area to be searched for floating debris had been narrowed to 46,713 square kilometers (18,036 square miles) of ocean extending from 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth. Up to 15 planes and 13 ships were conducting the visual search yesterday.
In Malaysia, police observed a minute of silence at a Buddhist temple to remember those aboard Flight 370.