An Australian search plane detected a new underwater signal Thursday in the same area of the Indian Ocean where four previous pings were picked up in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, an Australian official says.
The Australian P-3 Orion aircraft dropped sound-locating buoys in the area as searchers try to pinpoint a possible resting place for the Boeing 777 that disappeared without a trace on March 8 with 239 people aboard.
Royal Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said each buoy is dangling a hydrophone listening device about 1,000 feet below the surface. Each buoy transmits its data via radio back to the plane.
"The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight," said Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search off Australia's west coast.
The timing, 33 days after the plane vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is critical because acoustic pingers on the voice and data recorders are not designed to continue transmitting much beyond 30 days.
An Australian government briefing document circulated among international agencies involved in the search on Thursday said it was likely that the pingers would continue to transmit at decreasing strength for up to 10 more days, depending on conditions.
If confirmed, the latest signal would be the fifth detected in the search. The earlier detections have already prompted 14 airplanes and 13 ships to narrow their search area to the tightest zone yet — 22,364 square miles of ocean.
The recent flurry of signals has prompted Houston to express hope that teams were closing in on the vanished jet.
"I believe we are searching in the right area'' for the wreckage, he said Wednesday. He hopes more transmissions will be detected and, "in a matter of days we will be able to find something on the bottom that might confirm that this was the last resting place of MH370."
Houston cautioned that nothing can be confirmed until wreckage from the plane is visually identified.
"It is important that we gather as much information .... while the pingers are still transmitting,'' he said.