Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he is "very confident" the signals picked up in the search for MH370 are from the flight recorders of the missing aircraft, and that the search area has been narrowed down significantly.
Speaking to reporters in Shanghai on Friday 11 April, Abbott, who is on a visit to North Asia, says: "We have very much narrowed down the search area. It's been very much narrowed down because we've had a series of detections, some for quite long periods of time. Nevertheless, we’re now getting to the stage where the signal from what we’re very confident is the blackbox is starting to fade, and we’re hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.”
Abbott declined to give more information, saying details will first be provided to Chinese president Xi Jinping later this evening.
The prime minister's comments set the media on high alert and social media platform Twitter abuzz, which quickly prompted the Joint Agency Coordination Centre to put out a statement, saying there has been "no major breakthrough" in the search for MH370, which is taking place between 1,600-2,400km northwest of Perth.
JACC chief Angus Houston added that an initial assessment of a possible signal detected by a Royal Australian Air Force Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion on 10 April has been confirmed as unrelated to an aircraft's underwater locator beacon.
“The Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre has analysed the acoustic data and confirmed that the signal reported in the vicinity of the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield is unlikely to be related to the aircraft black boxes,” he says.
Houston adds that the search ship ADV Ocean Shield is continuing with focused sweeps with the towed pinger locator to try and detect further signals, in an attempt to retrieve as much information as possible before batteries on the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder die.
“A decision as to when to deploy the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle will be made on advice from experts on board the Ocean Shield and could be some days away,” he says.
“On the information I have available to me, there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370. I will provide a further update if, and when, further information becomes available.”
The Ocean Shield, for its part, detected signals consistent with an aircraft’s flight recorders, twice on 5 April and twice on 8 April.
Analysis revealed a “very stable, distinct and clear” signal at a frequency of 33.331kHz, pulsing at 1.106s intervals. Flight recorders are designed to transmit at 37.5kHz but frequency drift is possible given the timing and circumstances of the search.
The signals have been detected in an area which coincides with an unexplained partial satcom log-on communication which investigators revealed had taken place at 00:19UTC.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared on 8 March while operating on the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route. There were 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.