The head of the multi-national search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 says reports that a Chinese vessel twice picked up electronic pulses late Saturday are encouraging, but have not yet been verified.
Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told a news conference Sunday that, although the pulses are consistent with a plane's "black box" flight recorder, officials cannot verify any connection at this stage between the signals and the Malaysian jet. He said two Australian ships with high-technology equipment will join the Chinese vessel to confirm or rule out whether the signals were from the missing plane's flight recorder.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday that searchers are hopeful but by no means certain that the signal came from the plane's black box.
The Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing vanished nearly one month ago.
The wide-ranging search has focused on a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean where an underwater hunt began Saturday. The search has become more intense as the batteries in the black boxes are due to reach the end of their life soon.
Ships using submersible sonar and numerous military and private aircraft were deployed Saturday in a patch of the Indian Ocean about 1,700 kilometers northwest of Perth, Australia. Position information given out by China indicates its search ship was slightly outside the targeted area when it monitored the "ping" signal.
The Boeing 777 vanished without any distress calls, and authorities have refused to rule out any possibilities, including hijacking, sabotage or a mechanical malfunction. Malaysian officials say they are continuing to investigate whether any deliberate action by the pilots or crew could have sent the plane down.