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JET SEARCHERS INVESTIGATE PING AREAS

New York Times

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - The multinational force hunting for evidence of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Sunday zeroed in on a patch of water about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, where a Chinese naval vessel said it had detected underwater signals that might have come from the lost aircraft.

Ships from the Australian and British navies, equipped with sophisticated underwater sensors, were diverted from other search areas in the Indian Ocean to investigate the findings of the Chinese vessel, which reported that its underwater listening devices had picked up signals on Friday and Saturday that were consistent with the pings broadcast by a plane's data and cockpit voice recorders, or black boxes.

An Australian naval vessel said it, too, had captured an underwater signal in a different part of the vast search area where the multinational search force had focused its efforts over the past several days.

The chief of the Australian team coordinating the search, as well as officials from Malaysia and China, cautioned against hasty conclusions about the source of the signals, warning that false alerts could be set off by sea life - including whales - or by noise from ships, among other causes.

Yet the reports by the Chinese vessel, Haixun 01, and the Australian ship, Ocean Shield, revived hopes, however slight, that searchers might finally find concrete evidence of the plane and its fate. A discovery using the sonic technology would be particularly extraordinary now considering that the batteries in the black boxes are expected to expire soon. Once they are depleted, the boxes' sonic beacons will stop, further complicating the search.

Angus Houston, the Australian chief coordinator of the Indian Ocean search, said that officials were treating all three "acoustic events" seriously.

Since Flight 370 veered off its scheduled path from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to Beijing on March 8 and dropped off civilian and military radar, no trace of the plane has been found.

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