Investigators got new information that may help them narrow the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Thursday as new details shed light on the doomed flight's final moments early March 8 as it flew from Kuala Lumpur toward Beijing.
A search plane has detected a possible signal - the fifth so far - from the locator beacons from the missing jet's so-called black boxes, the Australian agency coordinating the search announced.
The acoustic data from the possible signal, detected by an RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft on Thursday afternoon, were being analyzed at RAAF Base Edinburgh near Adelaide, according to a source with the Australian Defense Force. The source said the signal was detected by sonar buoys that had been deployed by the aircraft earlier.
The data show "potential of being from a man-made source," said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the agency's chief coordinator.
A senior Malaysian government official and another source involved in the investigation divulged Thursday a number of details about the flight:
• Malaysian air force search aircraft were scrambled about 8 a.m. March 8, soon after Malaysia Airlines reported that its plane was missing, Malaysian sources told CNN. The aircraft took off before authorities corroborated data indicating that the plane turned back westward, a senior Malaysian government official told CNN.
• But the air force did not inform the Department of Civil Aviation or search and rescue operations until three days later, March 11, a source involved in the investigation told CNN.
• Flight 370's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was the last person on the jet to speak to air-traffic controllers, telling them "Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero," Malaysian sources told CNN. The sources said there was nothing unusual about his voice, which betrayed no indication that he was under stress. One of the sources, an official involved in the investigation, told CNN that police played the recording to five other Malaysia Airlines pilots who knew the pilot and co-pilot. "There were no third-party voices," the source said.
• Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from military radar for about 120 nautical miles after it crossed back over the Malaysian Peninsula, sources say. Based on available data, this means the plane must have dipped in altitude to between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, a senior Malaysian government official and a source involved in the investigation tell CNN.
The dip could have been programmed into the computers controlling the plane as an emergency maneuver, said aviation expert David Soucie.
"The real issue here is it looks like - more and more - somebody in the cockpit was directing this plane and directing it away from land," said CNN aviation analyst and former National Transportation Safety Board Managing Director Peter Goelz. "And it looks as though they were doing it to avoid any kind of detection."
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In the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a plane has detected a possible signal from the locator beacons on the so-called black boxes from the missing aircraft, the Australian agency coordinating the search announced Thursday.
"The acoustic data will require further analysis overnight but shows potential of being from a man-made source," said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the agency's chief coordinator.
The possible signal, which was picked up through sonar buoys equipped to receive such electronic data, was detected near the Australian ship Ocean Shield, said the Joint Agency Coordination Centre.
Crews have been narrowing the search area in the Indian Ocean.
Up to 10 military aircraft, four civil aircraft and 13 ships were to assist in Thursday's search for the Boeing 777-200ER, which was carrying 239 people when it vanished March 8 on a fight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.
Three of the vessels - the Ocean Shield to the north, and the British HMS Echo and Chinese Haixun 01 to the south - were focusing underwater.
Aircraft and ships spotted a number of objects during Wednesday's search, but could recover only a small number, none of which appeared linked to MH370, the JACC said.
Thursday's search area is about 22,400 square miles (58,000 square kilometers), centered some 1,417 miles (2,280 kilometers) northwest of Perth. That's roughly the size of West Virginia.
But the latest search area is about three quarters of the size of the area that teams combed the day before and far smaller than what it was a few weeks ago.
We'll have the latest developments on this story on @ThisHour at 11am ET/ 8am PT.
The optimism that bubbled up over the weekend when an Australian navy ship detected pulses that appeared to signal the nearby presence of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's so-called black boxes had subsided somewhat by Tuesday, as continuing listening efforts yielded nothing.
Searchers are still scouring the waters, but their optimism is "more cautious," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. William Marks. "As hours pass," he said, "our optimism is fading away, ever so slightly."
His restraint contrasted with the cheers that erupted Saturday when the team aboard Australia's Ocean Shield detected a possible signal from the plane's flight data recorder or its cockpit voice recorder. A second possible signal was heard soon after.
SEE AND HEAR POSSIBLE PINGS HERE:
The signals, detected about 1,100 miles (1,750 kilometers) northwest of Perth, Australia, were consistent with those sent by a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said. They were heard in seawater about 14,800 feet (4,500 meters) deep.
Investigators hope the signals were from locator beacons that were attached to the data and voice recorders that were stored in the tail of the Boeing 777-200ER when it disappeared from radar screens on March 8.
"The audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon," Houston said. "We are encouraged that we are very close to where we need to be."
If the signals are heard again, searchers could deploy an underwater drone to take photos to determine whether they do mean the discovery of the black boxes. That process could take more than a week.
"Until we have stopped the pinger search, we will not deploy the submersible," Houston said. "We will not deploy it unless we get another transmission in which we'll probably have a better idea of what's down there."
First signal continued for more than 2 hours
The first signal, detected by the towed pinger locator dragged behind the Australian ship, continued for more than two hours; the second for about 13 minutes. But since then, there's been silence.
"That the Ocean Shield has not reacquired the ping is a genuine setback," said Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. "We're talking now an investigation that could go on months, if not years."
"I think the pings that they did hear were tremendously helpful," said Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation. But more pings would have been more helpful, she said, noting that those that were identified could have emanated from anywhere within a 5-mile radius. "If they had been able to pick up more pings, they could really have reduced that size and then given the submersibles just a small area to search."
Still, she expressed hope that - even if the batteries powering the locator beacons have died - the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder can be found and, with them, clues to what happened.
"It just means that the submersibles are going to have a really long - as they say - mowing the ocean patch" over an area the size of Houston, Texas, she said.
Tuesday marks day 32
Tuesday marked the 32nd day since the Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared; it also marked two days after the date on which the batteries powering the locator beacons were certified to be working.
But searchers, mindful that the batteries could work for days more, have kept listening.
"We need to continue ... for several days right up to when the point at which there's absolutely no doubt that the pinger batteries will have expired," said Houston.
"We know that the batteries can last up to 40 days," retired Royal Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Kay told CNN. "If I was Angus Houston, I would be putting the search out to at least 42, 43 (days) to make absolutely sure that the batteries had failed."
"I think they're going to keep towing for the sound, probably another week or 10 days," Goelz said. "Then they're going to have to reassess."
That reassessment could lead officials to begin using side-scanning sonar, a painstaking process of searching the depths for signs of the missing airliner.
"I think we're in a very critical stage of the search, and some big decisions are going to have to be made in the next week or so," Goelz said.
Searchers are looking for debris over 30,000 square miles (more than 77,500 square kilometers) of the Indian Ocean, about 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) northwest of Perth. That's about a third of the size of the previous search zone and is based largely on Inmarsat data about where the plane may have traveled, said CNN analyst David Gallo.
The search area presents major challenges.
The area of ocean is deep, and a cyclone that packed wind speeds of more than 160 mph churned through two weeks ago, when crews were focused elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. The storm could have further spread any debris.
"This was an area that looked like a washing machine in the first place, but now we know it was even worse than that," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
But Tuesday's weather was calm, with no major systems near where the pings were detected, said CNN meteorologist Sherri Pugh.
Chinese ship detected pulses
Teams are also still investigating pulses detected Friday and Saturday by a Chinese ship about 600 kilometers (375 miles) southwest of where the Ocean Shield is searching.
The signals detected by the Chinese weren't as sustained as those picked up by the Ocean Shield, and the Chinese vessel's detection gear isn't as advanced as the U.S. pinger locator.
Houston said Monday that they were probably separate events.
Some friends and relatives of passengers said they were keeping their hopes in check.
"Until they physically locate the bulk of the plane with the black box intact and passenger bodies, I won't believe it," said Sarah Bajc, the partner of American passenger Philip Wood.
At a candlelight vigil in Beijing on Monday night, some relatives sobbed and others bowed their heads.
"If the plane is there, it's there. We can't change it," the husband of one passenger said. "But I am still hoping for a miracle to happen."
Pamela Rauseo was stuck in traffic on a Miami highway Thursday when her 5-month-old nephew, strapped into his car seat behind her, stopped screaming - and she knew something was very wrong.
"That was a red flag for me, because the car was at a standstill and he'd had a little bit of a cold and I knew that he was congested, so I got really worried," Rauseo told CNN on Friday about her nephew, Sebastian de la Cruz.
It turns out that she had plenty of cause for worry. "I pulled over on the left, and I jumped to the back to check up on him, and he was out, he was sleeping, and I touched him to stimulate him. I got no response, so I took him out of his car seat and he was completely limp and turning purple. I tried to call 911, but I was just so nervous my hands wouldn't function."
But others did. Rauseo screamed for help, and fellow motorists on the stretch of concrete congested with vehicles responded.
Lucila Godoy was among the first.
"I was driving in the middle lane, she was in the fast lane, and all of a sudden I see her and she's screaming and she's holding the baby and she's putting it up and down," she told CNN. "I just stopped the car and jumped out of the car, and I asked her what was going on and we started working as a team."
The team grew. With the help of a police officer who showed up moments later, the women began performing CPR on Sebastian, who resumed breathing on his own.