Not a Plane, but a Ship!

Ship debris
Ship wreckage on seafloor, including an anchor. Source: ATSB, photo by Fugro.

Published May 13, 2015 5:10 PM by Kathryn Stone

The search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 has turned up something unexpected this week. Instead of the downed Boeing 777 Australian-led search teams were looking for, the salvage operation has uncovered a previously uncharted shipwreck 13,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface.

 “It’s a fascinating find,” said Peter Foley Director of the Operational Search for the MH370, “but it’s not what we’re looking for.” The Fugro Equator, a deep tow system, first detected a series of bright reflections on an otherwise empty seafloor. Though skeptical that the contacts were related to the investigation for the missing plane, the search team diverted additional vessels to the area to perform sonar scans and gather underwater imagery. The search revealed that the debris field was man-made as previously thought and that it was the wreckage of a 19 century ship, not the MH 370.

For the past 14 months the Australian government has coordinated an international search team to locate and salvage the remains of Malaysian Flight MH 370, in which 239 crew members and passagers died. The ill-fated plane disappeared on March 8, 2014 en route to Beijing and has become one of the biggest aviation mysteries of all time. 

As of May 2015 over 75 percent of the 23,000 sq. mile priority search area has been investigated and the full search of the area is expected to conclude by the end of the month. The investigation currently consists of three vessels with deep tow systems and a third autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). 

Foley showed continued optimism toward the search efforts saying, “This event has really demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well. It’s shown that if there’s a debris field in the search area, we’ll find it.”

It is estimated that the search has cost over $100 million to date. The Austrialian government has set aside an additional $40 million to continue search efforts through 2016. If no wreckage from the MH370 flight is found in the priority search area, the investigation will include a doubled search area of seafloor adjacent to the priority zone. 

The Australian government has stated that the wreck found this week and all captured imagery will be given to marine archeologists in the hope of identifying the ship.