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Byline: Ben Endley

HOPES rose in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet yesterday as a search boat detected a possible signal from an aircraft black box.

But investigators face a race against time to confirm it belongs to Flight MH370 before the recorder's transmitter runs out of battery power.

The pinger signal, heard yesterday in the area where the Boeing 777 is thought to have come down, gave off a frequency of 37.5kHz per second - identical to the beacon sound emitted by flight recorders.

Search crews will hope the find proves to be the breakthrough they have desperately been seeking.

But they have so far been unable to confirm the signal is linked to the lost passenger jet, which vanished with 239 people aboard on March 8. And they fear that it could stop as early as tomorrow, because batteries in the black box's transmitter are able to last only 30 days.


China's official state news agency Xinhua said in a statement: "The Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01, searching for flight MH370, discovered a pulse signal with a frequency of 37.5kHz per second in south Indian Ocean waters."

The boat was towing an underwater "pinger locator", which uses sensitive listening equipment to detect radio signals.

Three members of the Chinese crew reportedly heard the signal but did not record it because it arrived so suddenly.

Maritime security expert Professor Chris Bellamy said it was "very possibly, if not probably" the signal from MH370's black box.

"The reported frequency of 37.5kHz is the exact frequency of a pinger from a black box," he said.

"That frequency was specifically selected because it stood out against the background noise of the ocean. What else could it be?" " Radar expert Professor Hugh Griffiths said: "I think it's quite likely to be the black box. I would not put it stronger than that. I can thinkof very few other things that could produce a noise like that in such a wide ocean."

With time running out, up to 13 international military and civilian planes and about a dozen ships - including Australia's Ocean Shield, with its own pinger-locator - are scouring the area close to where the signal was heard.

Specialist P-3 Orion planes with radar and infra-red detectors are also flying low over the search zone.

And Britain's nuclear submarine HMS Tireless has joined the hunt.

Sonar and cameras mounted on remote-controlled submarines will be used to confirm whether the pinger is from MH370's black box, said Dr Simon Boxall, a lecturer in ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton.

If it is, an attempted recovery will begin. But he said confirmation could still take some time, as a remote sub can operate only when the sea is relatively calm.

"We've had a lot of false leads in this search and I'd really like to see this data confirmed," he added.

The possible breakthrough came as Malaysia's defence minister was forced to deny allegations that his government had been behind the airliner's disappearance.

Hishammuddin Hussein, also acting transport minister, said: "I'd like to state for the record that these allegations are completely untrue.

"As I've said before, the search for MH370 should be above politics. I can only speak for Malaysia - and we will not stop looking for MH370."

The overall search area covers 84,000 square miles of the South Indian Ocean, roughly 1,100 miles north-west of Perth in Australia.

It is not clear why the jet diverted from its flight path on leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing or why locator equipment was switched off.


DENIALS: Hussein yesterday

SEARCH: The Ocean Shield pinger-locator

MYSTERY: The lost Boeing 777

DISCOVERY: Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 6, 2014
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