Navy 'working 24/7' in plane search

Witney Gazette: HMS Echo is helping in the search for the missing plane. HMS Echo is helping in the search for the missing plane.

A Royal Navy ship is arriving today in the area of the southern Indian Ocean where "pings" thought to be from the black box of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been detected.

Survey ship HMS Echo will help the Royal Australian Navy's vessel Ocean Shield which has detected the black box "pings" as part of the international effort to find the missing jet, the MoD said.

The hydrographic survey ship, whose specialist equipment can scan the seabed and has been specially adapted to listen for the sonar pings, was diverted from her patrol in the Indian Ocean after a request from the Malaysian authorities for support.

Commanding Officer Commander Phillip Newell said his 60 men and women were giving the search their all: "My ship's company are working 24/7 to find MH370.

"They are young, bright and enthusiastic and will step up to every challenge in the search for the missing aircraft. I am immensely proud of them."

The ship's arrival comes as an Australian aircraft picked up a new underwater signal today while searching the same part of the Indian Ocean where earlier sounds were detected that were consistent with an aircraft's black boxes.

HMS Echo has already searched 6,000 square miles of ocean - an area 10 times the size of Greater London - 1,000 miles north-west of Perth with Chinese vessels Haixun and Dong Hai Jiu, where sensors from one of the Chinese vessels picked up a possible signal on April 5.

Her hi-tech sonar has been specially adapted so it can pick up any transmissions on the black box's frequency - it is the first time HMS Echo's sonar has been used this way and so far has located several possible contacts, but none from MH370's black box.

Nuclear submarine HMS Tireless is also working as part of the co-ordinated international search, using sonar to listen for the pings sent out from the black box transponder.

RAF personnel have also been flying in Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force maritime patrol aircraft as part of the search.

Engineering Officer Lieutenant Andy Thomas said his team had been working around the clock to ensure HMS Echo reached the search area in good time - and that the equipment was ready for a mission beyond their usual remit.

The 31-year-old, from Fareham, Hampshire, said: "My engineers worked incredibly hard to ensure the main engines and electrical propulsion drives have been running at full power, in order to reach the search area in the shortest possible time.

"At the same time, we checked and maintained the survey equipment held on board to allow us the best possible chance to find the aircraft flight data recorder.

"Despite the sombre nature of our task I feel privileged to be granted the opportunity to assist in hopefully bringing some closure to the families and loved ones of those involved."

Petty Officer Simon Hamilton, 42, from Coventry, who is in charge of seamanship aboard the survey ship, added: "We train hard to do what we do and sometimes it is hard to deal with what is placed in front of us."

Plymouth-based HMS Echo was gathering data on her way from Oman to the Seychelles when she received orders to sail to the southern Indian Ocean to join the international search for the Malaysia Airlines plane.

Apart from a 12-hour stop in the Maldives to take on supplies and change some of her crew, the survey ship has now been at sea continuously for six weeks, while Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Tireless has been away from Plymouth Naval Base for three months.

Today an Australian navy P-3 Orion, which has been dropping sound-locating buoys into the water near where the original sounds were heard, picked up a "possible signal" that may be from a man-made source.

If confirmed, it would be the fifth underwater signal detected in the hunt for Flight 370, which vanished on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, with 239 people aboard.

On Tuesday, Australian vessel Ocean Shield picked up two underwater sounds, 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.

Search organisers have said they are hopeful that crews will find the aircraft in the "not-too-distant future."

The locator beacons on the black boxes holding the flight data and cockpit voice recorders have a battery life of about a month, and Tuesday marked one month since Flight 370 disappeared.

The area of the southern Indian Ocean as a suspected location where the plane crashed is based on a flight path calculated from its contacts with a communications satellite and analysis of its speed and when it would have run out of fuel.

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