PERTH, Australia - Naval vessels carrying sophisticated deep-sea black box detectors are en route to a location in the southern Indian Ocean where a Chinese patrol ship has twice detected a pulse signal coming from the search area of a missing airliner, according to Australian officials.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the chief coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, cautioned the pulses remain unverified but told reporters in Perth Sunday that the signals were "an important and encouraging lead" in the ongoing search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370..
The first signal was detected Saturday by a "black box detector" deployed by Chinese ship Haixun 01 . The pulse was picked up around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude, according to China's official news agency, Xinhua.
On Sunday, Haixun 01 reported it had redetected the signal for 90 seconds within 1.4 miles of the original signal.
The Australian vessel Ocean Shield also is investigating a separate acoustic detection, Houston said.
"We have an acoustic event. The job now is to determine the significance of that event. It does not confirm or deny the presence of the aircraft locator on the bottom of the ocean," Houston said, referring to each of the three transmissions.
Xinhua also reported Saturday that a Chinese air force plane spotted a number of white floating objects 56 miles from the detection area in the search area, which is northwest of the Australian city of Perth.
"I (have) made clear, that these signals and the objects could not be verified as connected to the missing aircraft … that remains the case," Houston said.
Houston said the characteristics of the sounds reported by the Chinese are "consistent with the aircraft black box."
Malaysia Airlines' Beijing-bound Flight 370, with 239 people aboard, lost communication with civilian air controllers soon after it took off early March 8 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. No emergency signals or distress messages were received before the plane vanished from radar.
As the search for the missing plane reaches nearly one month with no results, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Saturday announced the creation of a new multinational investigation team, and said the hunt would continue with "vigor and intensity."
"The search operation has been difficult, challenging and complex," Hussein said in a press briefing. "In spite of all this, our determination remains undiminished."
Malaysia will continue to lead the investigation, yet an independent "investigator in charge" will be appointed to head a new investigation team, he said.
That multinational team will examine three main areas related to the missing jetliner. It will look at airworthiness, including maintenance, structures and systems; operations, such as flight recorders and meteorology; and medical and human factors such as "psychology, pathology and survival factors," he said.
The team will include representatives from Australia, as well as China, the United States, Britain and France, Hussein said.
Hussein also announced three new committees. A "next of kin committee" will provide families of passengers with information on the search operation and provide support after the search operation concludes, he said. Another committee will oversee the formation of the new investigation team. A third committee will work with other countries, such as Australia, on the deployment of assets for the search operation.
Up to 10 military planes, 2 civil planes and 13 ships will assist in Sunday's search for the plane, according to the Joint Agency Coordination Centre,
Three separate search areas planned for Sunday about 1,243 miles (2,000 kilometers) northwest of Perth, which total approximately 83,000 square miles (216,000 square kilometers).
One big issue as time goes on: The sound-emitting beacons in the recorders could fall silent as their batteries die after sounding electronic "pings" after about a month.
The Australian navy's Ocean Shield and the British HMS Echo, two ships carrying sophisticated equipment that can hear the recorders' pings, are more than 24 hours away from the site as of early Sunday.