Missing Malaysian Jetliner: Underwater sound examined for links

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The search has shifted from waters off of Vietnam, to the Strait of Malacca. (AP)
The scientists normally use the recorders for environmental research, such as studying whale sounds
 A team of Australian researchers looking into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 released data on Wednesday about an unusual underwater sound recorded around the time the plane vanished, though the lead scientist acknowledged the chances it is linked to the jet are slim.

The low-frequency sound was picked up by underwater listening devices in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia on March 8, the same day the Boeing 777 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia have been analyzing the signal to see if it may be the sound of the plane crashing into the ocean. But Alec Duncan, who’s heading up the research, said the sound appears to have originated well outside the jet’s projected flight path that officials determined based on satellite and radar data, and is therefore unlikely to have come from the plane. “It’s one of these situations where you find yourself willing it all to fit together but it really doesn’t,” said Duncan, senior research fellow with Curtin’s Center for Marine Science and Technology. “I’d love to be able to sit here and say, `Yeah, we’ve found this thing and it’s from the plane’ _ but the reality is, there’s a lot of things that make noise in the ocean.” The noise could have come from a natural event, such as a small earthquake, Duncan said. He put the chances of it being linked to Flight 370 at less than 20 percent. Soon after the search for the plane moved to the southern Indian Ocean, scientists from Curtin decided to check the data from their underwater acoustic recorders off Rottnest Island, near Perth, to see if they’d picked up anything of interest. The scientists normally use the recorders for environmental research, such as studying whale sounds. This time, however, the data showed a signal that they initially thought might be the aircraft crashing into the ocean _ an event that would have produced a low-frequency sound that can travel thousands of kilometers (miles) under the right conditions, Duncan said.  to help us personalize your reading experience. The team then checked data from underwater recorders off the southwest tip of Australia that are run by the United Nations’ Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation in Vienna. One of the recorders had picked up a sound consistent with the original signal. That allowed the team to determine which direction the sound came from _ though not its precise location. The scientists then refined the data further and realized the sound originated somewhere south of India _ an area well outside the arc of ocean where officials have determined the plane probably crashed.

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