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Flight MH370: Search hones in on flight recorder signals as rescuers race the clock

4PM UPDATE: Australian search authorities say they’ve had no further contact with any flight recorder signals from what is believed to be the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200.

In a news briefing this afternoon in Perth they say they won’t deploy a submersible vehicle until a further signal is confirmed. But they are also stepping up their efforts in what they believe is their best lead yet in the month-long search operation.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the multinational search, says the search is still too large for a submersible.

A “ping” locator aboard the Australian Navy ship Ocean Shield is working at the northern end of a search zone covering 77,580 sq km off the coast of Western Australia.

Investigators believe this area is the most likely spot where the plane may have run out of fuel, more than a thousand miles from the nearest airport, after disappearing from civilian radar on March 8.

Earlier report:
In the best lead yet in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, flight recorder signals have been detected in an area about 650 miles from the town of Exmouth on the Western Australian coast.

This follows confirmation by Australian naval ship Ocean Shield that its black-box detector equipment has picked up signals far beneath the ocean surface.

Investigators believe this area is the most likely spot where the plane may have run out of fuel, more than a thousand miles from the nearest airport, after disappearing from civilian radar on March 8.

The first of the signals late at night on Saturday local time was held for more than two hours, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the multinational search.

On a return trip along the same path early on Sunday, two distinct "pinger" signals were detected and held for about 13 minutes.

"Significantly, this would be consistent with transmission from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

"Clearly this is a most promising lead…The audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency-locator beacon."

So far, the multinational team of military aircraft have failed to spot any debris related to Flight 370 on the surface of the ocean in more than two weeks. Instead, investigators have relied on radar, satellite communications and other data to plot where they believe plane likely went down.

That analysis, which has been revised several times, steered the Australian-led search operation to direct the Ocean Shield to the most likely area.

Earlier reports that Chinese ship Haixun 01 had picked up a “ping” signal have been discounted as that was several hundred miles away.

Aircraft not declared 'lost'
Meanwhile, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says his country isn’t ready to declare the plane lost.

He has told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that Malaysia will consult with all investigating agencies and foreign governments on when to declare the aircraft lost with no survivors so relatives can start accessing the bank accounts of the 239 missing passengers and crew and begin to submit insurance claims.

Malaysian officials have insisted that they don’t view the plane as lost, though on March 24, Prime Minister Najib Razak said the flight “ended” in the Indian Ocean.

“It’s a very fine line that we are walking,” Mr. Hishammuddin says. “It really depends very much on how we move forward on deciding the timeline and how families cope with it.”

Batteries in MH370's two black boxes - the flight recorder and the cockpit voice recorder - are due to run out at any moment. It's possible they expired on Monday.