Crews searching the Indian Ocean for the elusive wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have instead located a shipwreck, which was uncharted in the waters off western Australia.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau announced the discovery of the debris on Wednesday — 431 days after Flight 370 went missing — and said images will be turned over to marine archaeologists.
“It’s a fascinating find,” Peter Foley, director of the ATSB’s operational search for Flight 370, said in a statement, “but it’s not what we’re looking for. We’re not pausing in the search for MH370, in fact the vessels have already moved on to continue the mission. Obviously, we’re disappointed that it wasn’t the aircraft, but we were always realistic about the likelihood.”
But the discovery of the shipwreck did offer some glimmer of hope for the teams working in the massive Indian Ocean search zone: “This event has really demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well,” Foley said. “It’s shown that if there’s a debris field in the search area, we’ll find it.”
Michael McCarthy, a senior maritime archaeologist at the West Australian Maritime Museum, told the Associated Press that the debris looked like it was from a 19th century ship.
“We’ve got quite a lot of stories about ships that sank in the Indian Ocean mid-voyage and you would be struggling to tell which is which unless you had a complete catalogue of all the ones lost,” he said.
Experts had predicted Flight 370 search crews would probably stumble across the wreckage of some ships, given that they once sank regularly due to old age or bad weather, McCarthy said. But it would be difficult to identify this particular wreck without getting a closer look and knowing which ports it was traveling between, he said.
“Being a fairly common type of cargo ship from the 19th century with no obvious cargo remains there, I doubt that anyone would pay the enormous cost of going down to look at it,” McCarthy said.
Here are more images from the ATSB:
The Malaysia Airlines jet went missing in March 2014, during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. More than 200 people were on the plane.
In April, officials announced plans to double the Flight 370 search zone if wreckage of the aircraft wasn’t found.