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Malaysia Airlines Search Team Finds Sunken Ship Instead

Still no sign of the missing Flight 370.

(Fugro/Australian Transport Safety Bureau)
smithsonian.com

A search team combing the depths of the Indian Ocean for signs of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 still hasn't spotted the plane. But they have discovered signs of an old shipwreck. The crew of the search vessel Fugro Discovery was scanning the ocean floor for debris from the missing jet when their sonar detected a cluster of objects scattered about a small area. Subsequent underwater photos revealed the wreckage of a sunken ship, including an intact anchor.

“It’s a fascinating find, but it’s not what we’re looking for,” said Peter Foley, director of the search at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in a statement.

Even though officials thought the discovery was unlikely to be related to Flight 370, they decided to follow up on the find anyway. What they found was the remains of a 19th century ship, likely a merchant sailing ship, writes Michelle Innis for the New York Times.

Shipping routes through the region were popular with sailors at the time because of strong westerly winds called the “Roaring Forties.” Based on the pictures the search crew took of the shipwreck and the shape of the anchor, the ship was likely built sometime between 1850 and 1910, Royal Australian Navy maritime archaeologist Dr. James Hunter tells Innis. It’s possible the ship sunk while sailing around southern Australia while en route to Europe, he says.

While the location of the find was logged, Foley said the search crews will not stop to examine the shipwreck further.

“We’re not pausing in the search for MH370, in fact the vessels have already moved on to continue the mission,” Foley said. “Obviously, we’re disappointed that it wasn’t the aircraft, but we were always realistic about the likelihood.”

Although this find didn’t turn out to be the wreckage of Flight 370, the search team said it’s a good sign that they can spot debris on the seafloor. As Paul Kennedy, search director for a Dutch company that owns several of the vessels hunting for the downed plane, told Innis for the New York Times, they are confident their search will eventually uncover signs of the missing airplane. “It shows we are able to find small pins and small pieces of metal on the seafloor, a long way down,” Kennedy told Innis. “Pieces from MH370 would be roughly 10 times as big as that.”

The Malaysia Airlines jet was carrying 239 people on a routine flight from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur when it disappeared on March 8, 2014. Investigators believe the plane was flying over the Indian Ocean when it ran out of fuel and crashed. Search crews have yet to find any sign of debris from the airplane as they scour a total area of 46,000 square miles.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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