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Detection of pings viewed as promising

– A concentrated air and sea search was underway in the Indian Ocean early today after an Australian ship detected faint pings deep underwater in what an official called the “most promising lead” yet in the search for Flight 370.

Up to 14 planes and as many ships were focusing on a single search area covering 30,000 square miles of ocean, 1,400 miles northwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth, said the Joint Agency Coordination Center, which is overseeing the operation.

Chinese, Australian and British ships were taking advantage of forecast good weather to continue the underwater hunt with sensitive acoustic equipment for the plane’s black boxes in the northern end of the search zone, the center said.

The Boeing 777 vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board. The focus of the search is on the southern Indian Ocean as an analysis of satellite and radar data indicated the plane veered far off course for a still-unknown reason.

The Ocean Shield, an Australian ship towing sophisticated U.S. Navy listening equipment, detected two distinct, long-lasting sounds underwater that are consistent with the pings from an aircraft’s “black boxes” – the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, said Angus Houston, the retired Australian air chief marshal who heads the search operation.

Houston said the signals were stronger and lasted longer than faint signals a Chinese ship reported hearing about 345 miles south in the remote search zone off Australia’s west coast.

Navy specialists were urgently trying to pick up the signals again so they can triangulate their position and go to the next step of sending an unmanned miniature submarine into the depths to look for any plane wreckage.

Geoff Dell, discipline leader of accident investigation at Central Queensland University in Australia, said it would be “coincidental in the extreme” for the sounds to have come from anything other than an aircraft’s flight recorder.

Little time is left to locate the flight recorders, whose locator beacons have a battery life of about a month. Tuesday marks exactly one month since the Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared.

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