The Australian agency coordinating the international effort to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has narrowed the search area to the smallest it has ever been–an area of 22,364 square miles northwest of Perth, Australia–as investigators have continued to find pinging sounds appearing to come from a plane black box.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Australian officials announced the new, far smaller search field on Thursday, as well as the incorporation of new international vessels to locate the items emitting man-made frequencies from the ocean floor. Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is running the search, announced that the British ship HMS Echo would be returning to the northern area where Australian vessels had initially experienced “aural events” that made authorities announce they believed the search was “very close” to over.
Even those officials that spoke in more measured terms appeared extremely enthusiastic about the search. “We are still a long way to go, but things are more positive than they were some time ago,” chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Board Martin Dolan told Reuters. Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy explained to the agency why the pings were so exciting: without ships in the neighboring area, there is a minimal possibility of a false positive on something like a black box sending search vehicles signals: “that does provide a lot of sensors in the vicinity of the Ocean Shield without having a ship there to produce the background noise.”
The search’s biggest breakthrough occurred last week, when the Chinese search vessel Haixun 01 reported aural signals from the bottom of the ocean that matched man-made frequencies assigned to flight recorders and black boxes. Haixun 01 has since lost that signal, and for one day no search vessels in the area received any signals that matched the initial ping. As a black box’s battery is only designed to last 30 days, many suspected that the box had stopped sending such a signal until yesterday, when Australian ships regained contact with the item sending out signals. Houston has notified the media in subsequent press conferences that the closer search vehicles appear to be to a specific area, the closer they can be to sending an unmanned drone to the bottom of the ocean to scour for the item. Without a narrow enough area, such a search would spend extraordinary amounts of money while yielding minimal results.
As the search continues, the nations involved in the tragedy continue to regain their footing and attempt to restore normalcy. The Malaysian tourism industry in particular has suffered a tremendous blow in the wake of MH370’s disappearance, as many Chinese tourists have canceled their visits and some Chinese travel agency websites have boycotted Malaysia Airlines, preventing Chinese users from booking flights on their planes. More than half of the passengers on Flight 370 were Chinese nationals, and Beijing has taken on a prominent role in the search.