The search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is one of the most extensive in history. And while the airliner is still to be found, researchers looking for it have stumbled upon the wreckage of two ships that disappeared in the late 1800s.
Researchers can’t conclusively identify the ships – one, an iron ship; the other, a wooden one – because records from the era are incomplete. But they have found a few possible candidates.
Records suggest the wooden ship may have been the W. Gordon, which disappeared after leaving port in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1876 or the Mandala, which went missing on its voyage from Wales to the Maluku Islands in 1882.
The iron ship may be one of three vessel, but the best match appears to be the West Ridge, which was sailing from Liverpool to Mumbai in 1883 and never arrived.
Both ships probably had crews of between 15 and 30 men and they may have been carrying additional passengers, Anderson said.
“Then, as now, the disappearance of so many lives would have had a devastating impact on maritime families and communities,” said Dr. Ross Anderson. He is the curator of maritime archeology at The Western Australia Museum.
How they found the ships
A team from The Western Australia Museum was asked to study sonar data from the search for MH370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
While doing so, they came across the wreckage of the ships on the Indian Ocean floor about 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers) off the coast of Western Australia.
Both were carrying coal, Anderson said.
The condition the ships were in
There wasn’t much left of the wooden ship.
Its wooden hull structures and timbers had apparently degraded over the years, leaving only what was left of the cargo and metal parts of the ship, such as the anchors and fittings.
The cargo was scattered on the ocean floor, suggesting it spilled out as it the boat sank.
“The evidence points to the ship sinking as a result of a catastrophic event such as explosion, which was common in the transport of coal cargoes,” Anderson said in a news release.
They also found a 20-foot long metal rectangle that was identified as the vessel’s iron water tank.
The iron ship was found about 22 miles (36 kilometers) away and was in much better shape.
It was lying upright on the ocean floor and sonar and video images showed that it was an iron sailing ship with at least two decks.
The search for MH370 continues
The disappearance of MH370 on its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing is one of the biggest mysteries in modern aviation history.
The governments of China, Malaysia and Australia suspended the underwater search in January, 2017 after scouring 46,000 square miles (120,000 square kilometers) at a cost of about $150 million.
Some debris has been found, but authorities are no closer to finding the plane.
An American tech company signed a deal with the Malaysian government in January to resume the search.