Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: Houston reveals 'most promising lead'

An Australian military vessel has detected signals consistent with those emitted by an aircraft black box, indicating a potential breakthrough in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Two separate signals have been detected by Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the northern part of the search area.

In what he called "a most promising lead", Air Chief Marshal (ret) Angus Houston revealed that "the pinger locator has detected signals consistent with those emitted by aircraft black boxes".

The first detection was held for about two hours and 20 minutes, before the ship lost contact. On the return leg a second detection was held for about 13 minutes, where two distinct pinger returns were audible.

The Australian vessel Ocean Shield is towing a pinger locator to try to locate the black box from MH370. Picture: AP

The Australian vessel Ocean Shield is towing a pinger locator to try to locate the black box from MH370. Picture: AP

‘‘Significantly, this would be consistent with transmissions from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder,’’ said Mr Houston, the head of the search's joint agency co-ordination centre.

‘‘Clearly this is a most promising lead and probably in the search so far it’s the best information we’ve had. Again, I would ask you to treat this information cautiously until we can provide an unequivocal determination. We haven’t found the aircraft yet, we need further confirmation.’’

On Sunday, Mr Houston said the Ocean Shield had picked up an "acoustic event".

The development came shortly after a Chinese patrol vessel, the Haixun One Zero, reported detecting two pulse signals on Friday night, and then again on Saturday at a frequency consistent with black box technology.

The HMS Echo and RAAF aircraft were diverted to the Haixun's location on Sunday in a bid to verify whether the detections were linked to the missing plane's black box.

But the ADV Ocean Shield has continued to investigate in an area north of the Haixun, where it had picked up its own lead.

The plane, with 293 people on board, vanished without a trace during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

Up to 12 aircraft - nine military and three civilian, and 14 ships were scheduled to assist in the Indian Ocean search on Monday.

Weather conditions in the 234,000 square kilometre search area were expected to deteriorate into the afternoon after a clear day.

MORE TO COME

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The towed pinger locator sits on the deck of the Australian Defence vessel Ocean Shield. Picture: REUTERS

The towed pinger locator sits on the deck of the Australian Defence vessel Ocean Shield. Picture: REUTERS

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