Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and search in Indian Ocean
A crew member aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft Reuters

Australia has announced a potential breakthrough in the hunt for the black box of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 after the country's Ocean Shield vessel detected multiple "pings" in the remote southern Indian Ocean.

The authorities believe the latest detection is the "most promising lead so far" in the search for the airliner which vanished on 8 March.

Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told reporters "the pinger locator has detected signals consistent with those emitted by aircraft black boxes.

"Clearly in the search so far this is probably the best information we've had."

Authorities are racing against time to find the flight data recorder as its battery life runs out in 30 days.

However Houston repeatedly stressed that "funny" things do happen in oceans, meaning the signals may not be from the MH370's black box.

"The first contact was held for two hours and twenty minutes before it was lost. A second contact was detected and held after the Ocean Shield turned around and was held for 13 minutes," said Houston.

The search crew of the Ocean Shield, stationed in the area, is waiting for more pings in the same region in order to pinpoint the location. If the pulses are picked up again, the underwater drone, an autonomous vehicle, attached to the Ocean Shield will be deployed to map the surface below the water.

Houston also cautioned that the drone's capacity to travel underwater is only 4,500 metres deep while the current search zone is nearly the same depth. He emphasised there are deeper waters in the Indian Ocean.