MH370: Chinese ship detects pulse signal in Indian Ocean. How to never lose a black box again?

A Chinese ship involved in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in the Indian Ocean reportedly detected an underwater ping like those emitted by the aircraft black boxes.

On Apr. 5, the sonar detector-equipped Haixun 01 picked up an acoustical signal on 37.5 kHz frequency, the same as emitted by the Underwater Locator Beacon of flight recorders.

According to Xinhua news agency, the “ping” was detected at about 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude, within the search area of 88,000 sq. miles in the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, where aircraft, ships and submarines from 26 nations, are currently searching for any debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 mysteriously disappeared since Mar. 8.

On the same day the signal consistent with the aircraft black box was picked up, a Chinese patrol plane (most probably an Il-76 deployed to Perth), spotted some floating debris (see image below).

possible debris

At the moment, there is no confirmation that the signal and the pieces are related to the missing MH370.

Lessons Learned

Is there a way to prevent a plane from disappearing from the skies as happened to the Malaysian B777?


Current airplanes make several different kind of services available to passengers: interactive media, movie, games, music, but also Internet and telephone. The latter use satellite channels. This links could be used to stream CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder) and FDR (Flight Data Recorder) data (or just a subset of flight parameters) or, to reduce transmissions and save much money, simply report the black boxes position (coordinates) to ground stations in real time.

Another option is to make Underwater Locator Beacons more powerful and capable to operate for longer periods (they are currently limited to 30 days).

Then there’s another problem to be addressed: the capability of pilots to switch off all communication and navigation systems to make the plane (almost) invisible to radars. Since we can’t be completely dependent on aircrews to track airplanes wherever they fly, any “new” system should be designed in such a way pilots can’t switch it off.

Top image credit: Reuters


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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. My GF Suggested that they have Die Packs on board just like on the Mercury space program capsules – see this picture: The point being that a large die can explode at a certain underwater preassure and water contact and be seen from air – perhaps even magnetic ink or phospherous ink- visible to sattlites in various spectrums. Certainly cheaper than a lot of the technologies, and can be fitted by putting in another suitcase on plane.

    • As i mentioned in another post…all great ideas…however ocean currents/wind/weather would affect the dye pool as it would any debri field. I also believe that there may not be a debris field associated with every incident… probably because what doesn’t sink right away is dispersed eventually and quickly…leaving little or no clue as to the location of the major portions of the wreckage residing on the bottom. In addition, as major portions of wreckage sink to the bottom, these pieces would most likely not sink vertically. Given the depth of the water, it takes quite awhile for pieces to make it to the bottom…while subjected to ocean currents and because of shape and weight, may end up scattered all over the ocean floor, rather than in a pile.

    • Dye Pack

      – 100’s of litres would be needed to be visible from space

      -the constant carriage of the dye would increase the fuel requirement for every flight and cost each passenger more

      -Increase in logistical supply chain and maintenance (the dye and container need to be serviced)

      -Protects against an extremely remote event (the disappearance of an aircraft over water). Even just the disappearance of an aircraft (not necessarily into water) is rare and will only become more rare over time. Wikipedia ( lists all aircraft that have disappeared with no/limited recovery of passengers or aircraft. The last time an aircraft disappeared with >100 passengers was a Lockheed Constellation in 15 Mar 1962.

      So the protection/assistance provided by the dye pack cannot be justified from any practical standpoint.

    • The logistical constraints of constantly carrying many litres of dye would be the limiting factor. If 100’s of litres are necessary to be seen from space, this would cause a significant increase in the fuel required for all flights and this cost would be passed onto passengers. There would also be additional maintenance required to service the dye and container and this cost would also be passed onto passengers.

      Basically this suggestion, whilst a clever improvement, would be logistically and financially prohibitive.

  2. Chinese and Australian ships detects pulse signals from CVR/FDR 500 km appart.?One of them, is terrible wrong !

    • One of them for sure…we won’t mention any names…does coffee can and a string sensing device give you any clues ?

  3. Floating beacons like an (EPIRB) can be ejected from the plane when G sensors trigger due to a high G event. This would allow quick satellite location of the crash site and narrow the search area considerably.

  4. Dye packs would be financially and logistically too heavy to carry on every commercial flight. The benefits provided would only be realised when such an extremely rare event occurs (aircraft disappearance over water) which makes it unreasonable to install.

  5. “the capability of pilots to switch off all communication and navigation systems” there won’t be any circuit breakers to switch this stuff off when it overheats?

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