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New Pings Have Head Of Search Optimistic Jet Will Soon Be Found

"I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not-too-distant future," the head of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 told reporters on Wednesday after an Australian ship detected two more pings that may be signals from the plane's black boxes.

Those hopeful words from retired Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston are in stark contrast to the more cautionary tone he struck in previous days. Last week, for instance, he warned that the jet and the 239 people who were on board might never be found.

Houston is not declaring victory, however. Although he struck a more optimistic tone Wednesday, he added that with the black boxes' batteries likely to run out of power at any time, there may be "no second chances" for the searchers.

"It looks like the signals we picked up recently have been much weaker than the original signals we picked up," he said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. "We're either a long away from it or in my view more likely the batteries are starting to fade." Experts say the batteries last 30 to 45 days. The jet has now been missing for about 33 days.

Flight 370 was about one hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early morning hours of March 8 (local time) when it was last heard from. The jet was headed north over the Gulf of Thailand as it approached Vietnamese airspace.

Investigators believe the plane turned west, flew back over the Malay Peninsula, then out over the Indian Ocean before turning south toward Australia. They're basing those conclusions largely on data collected by a satellite system that received some information from the aircraft. The critical question — why did it turn? — remains unanswered.

The center of the search area where planes and ships are looking for any sign of the jet is now about 1,400 miles northwest of Perth, Australia. They're scouring a grid that's more than 29,000 square miles in size — a little less than the state of South Carolina.

Within that zone, two U.S. Navy officers tell Reuters, the pings that have been picked up by searchers are in an area that covers about 500 square miles. That's roughly the size of the city of Phoenix.

Reuters notes that "the signals, which could be from the plane's black box recorders, bring to four the number of overall pings detected in recent days within the search area by a U.S. Navy Towed Pinger Locator." That locator is being towed by an Australian navy vessel, the Ocean Shield.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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