Signals picked up by an Australian ship searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have been consistent with the aircraft’s flight recorders, Australian officials have said.

"Clearly, this is a most promising lead," Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency coordinating the search, told a news conference in Perth, the capital of Western Australia where search efforts have been organised.

Houston, a retired air chief marshal, said two signals had been detected by a black box detector attached to the ship off Australia's northwest coast, according to Reuters news agency.

The United States Navy "pinger locator" connected to the Australian ship Ocean Shield was trawling an area some 555 kilometres away from the site where the Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 reported seperate signals with the same frequency.

The first detection held for 2.5 hours before the ship lost contact. After turning around, the ship picked up the signal for around 13 minutes, he said.

'Confirmation might take days'

Confirmation of whether the signals were emitted from the Malaysian plane, missing since March 8 with 239 people on board, could take several days, Houston said.

The black boxes, thought be to lying on the ocean floor, are equipped with locator beacons that send pings, but the beacons' batteries are thought to be running out of charge by now, a month after the aircraft disappeared.

If the signals can be narrowed further, an unmanned underwater vehicle, Bluefin 21, will be sent to attempt to locate wreckage on the sea floor to verify the signals, said Houston, who noted that the potential search area was 4.5km deep.

"We are right on the edge of capability and we might be limited on capability if the aircraft ended up in deeper water," he said.

"In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast," he added.

Source: Agencies