An international search team combing the Indian Ocean for a Malaysian Airlines jetliner missing for nearly two years has instead found a shipwreck for the second time during its pursuit.
In March 2014, officials lost contact with Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The aircraft, which disappeared along with 239 passengers and crew, was thought to be lost over the Indian Ocean, a vast area encompassing thousands of square miles.
Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), which is leading the international group, said it already has searched more than 45,000 square miles. Using sonar equipment, three ships have been probing deep into the Indian Ocean at depth up to nearly 13,000 feet.
In December, the team found images of a ship missing for nearly 200 years, the center said, in a statement issued on its website Wednesday.
In the hunt for Malaysia’s missing aircraft, the team is currently using an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that is now charting some of the more demanding sections of the ocean, where “deep tow sonar” is ineffective.
“On 19 December 2015, an anomalous sonar contact was identified in the course of the underwater search, with analysis suggesting the object was likely to be man-made, probably a shipwreck,” the center said. “On 2 January 2016, the AUV captured high-resolution sonar imagery of the contact, confirming that it was indeed the wreck of a ship.”
The vessel is likely to be a steel/iron vessel dating from the turn of the 19th century confirmed the Shipwreck Galleries of the Western Australian Museum, but museum officials haven't identified the exact ship. In May, the team also discovered another 19th century shipwreck, but has uncovered few clues related to the missing plane.
In December, Warren Truss, Australia’s deputy prime minister and minister for the Infrastructure and Regional Development, said the team would continue scouring the area’s remaining 27,000 miles, or 45,000 kilometers, where the plane is believed to be located.
“Recent commitments by the People's Republic of China to provide funding and equipment, coupled with Malaysia's ongoing financial contributions, will ensure the thorough completion of the remaining 45,000 square kilometers of the search area,” he said. “I would like to assure the family and friends of those on board MH 370 that vigorous search efforts are continuing. There will soon be four vessels working in the search area, taking advantage of expected favorable weather conditions.”
Malaysia has been heavily criticized for mishandling the plane’s disappearance, while its prime minister, Najib Razak, is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal for allegedly stealing $700 million from a development fund.
Another Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people on board. In December of last year, the Malaysian airport authority announced it was searching for the owners of Boeing 747s left abandoned at an airport outside Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia said it has improved its air traffic control system to better track airplanes flying over remote oceans since MH370 went missing. And there are international efforts to better track aircraft by satellite.
A piece of the Malaysian plane was discovered last year on Reunion Island, thousands of miles from the current search zone, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Oceanographers have traced the way the sea currents would have moved the fragment to the island, and the current search area corelates to those results, reports the BBC.
The search is scheduled to conclude this summer, according to the JACC. “We remain hopeful the aircraft will be located,” Truss said.