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Planes and ships hunting for the missing Malaysian jetliner zeroed in on a targeted patch of the Indian Ocean on Thursday, after a navy ship picked up underwater signals that are consistent with a plane's black box.
Thursday's search zone was the smallest yet in the monthlong hunt for Flight 370, and comes a day after the Australian official in charge of the search expressed hope that crews were closing in on the "final resting place'' of the vanished jet.
Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search off Australia's west coast, said Wednesday that equipment on the Australian vessel Ocean Shield had picked up two sounds from deep below the surface on Tuesday, and an analysis of two other sounds detected in the same general area on Saturday showed they were consistent with a plane's flight recorders, or “black boxes.''
“I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not-too-distant future,'' Houston said Wednesday.
No further sounds had been picked up overnight, Houston's search coordination center said Thursday. But the Ocean Shield was continuing its hunt, slowly dragging a US navy pinger locator through the ocean's depths, hoping to find the signal again and get a more specific fix on its location.
Meanwhile, 14 planes and 13 ships were looking for floating debris across the 57,900 square kilometer (22,300 square mile) search zone, about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth, and China's Haixun 01 was using underwater acoustic equipment to search for signals in an area several hundred miles south of the Ocean Shield. A “large number of objects'' had been spotted by crews combing the area on Wednesday, but the few that had been retrieved by search vessels were not believed to be related to the missing plane, the coordination center said.
Search crews hunting for debris have already looked in the area they were crisscrossing on Thursday, but were moving in tighter patterns, now that the search zone has been narrowed to about a quarter the size it was a few days ago, Houston said.
Finding the flight data and cockpit voice recorders soon is important because their locator beacons have a battery life of about a month, and Tuesday marked one month since Flight 370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people aboard.
If the batteries fail before the recorders are located, finding them in such deep water