Search crews hunting for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the desolate waters off western Australia have discovered a shipwreck, officials said Wednesday.
The unexpected finding came when, sonar equipment on board a search vessel scouring the Indian Ocean, for the missing jetliner detected a cluster of objects nearly 4 km below the surface, according to a statement from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is heading up the hunt.
Although officials suspected the objects were probably not from the Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8, 2014, they decided to take a closer look just in case.
A second ship sent down an autonomous underwater vehicle essentially, an unmanned sub which revealed a large number of small objects and several larger items, the biggest 6 metres long. The debris appeared to be man-made, but wasn’t typical of an aircraft.
Still, crews sent down a camera to be sure. Analysis of the photos revealed this week that the debris came from a previously uncharted shipwreck. Marine archaeologists are now examining the photos, which include an image of an anchor and what appear to be lumps of coal, to see whether they can identify the ship.
“It’s a fascinating find, but it’s not what we’re looking for,” Peter Foley, the ATSB’s Director of the Operational Search for Flight 370, said. “We’re not pausing in the search for MH370, in fact the vessels have already moved on to continue the mission.”
Michael McCarthy, a senior maritime archaeologist at the West Australian Maritime Museum, said the wreck was of a cargo ship built in the mid-to-late 19th century, and could be one of hundreds lost in the Indian Ocean.
“You would be struggling to tell which is which unless you had a complete catalogue of all the ones lost,” he said. It would be difficult to identify this particular wreck without getting a closer look and knowing which ports it was traveling between, he said.