MH370 Shipwrecks Among Deepest Ever Discovered

The two 19th century shipwrecks discovered in the hunt for the missing MH370 passenger jet are among the deepest and most remote ever found, an Australian scientist has told the Associated Press.

The coal merchant ships—one wooden and one iron—were found around 21 miles apart and more than 2 miles below the surface of the Indian Ocean in 2015.

Search teams initially hoped one of the wrecks marked the final resting place of the airliner that disappeared with 239 people aboard in March 2014. Recent analysis by experts at the Western Australian Museum may have dashed these hopes, but has shed light on two other long-forgotten tragedies.

An image of the iron shipwreck discovered in the Indian Ocean during the search for MH370. Scientists believe it could be the West Ridge that was lost in 1883. Australian Transport Safety Bureau

Both shipwrecks remain unidentified, but using sonar and video data of the wrecks alongside shipping records, the scientists were able to suggest a list of missing vessels that fit the bill. Coal was found around both wrecks, marking them out as merchant craft using the "Roaring 40s" westerly winds to travel the important trading route from the northern hemisphere to Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

According to the Western Australian Museum curator of maritime archaeology Ross Anderson, a "catastrophic" event such as an explosion may have been to blame. Such accidents were a common concern on coal transport ships of the era.

The wooden ship could be the missing brig W. Gordon or the barque Magdala. W. Gordon was on a voyage from the U.K. to Australia when it disappeared in 1877 with 10 crew aboard. Magdala was lost in 1882 while sailing from Wales to Indonesia.

The iron ship could be one of three missing vessels: the Kooringa (1894), Lake Ontario (1897) or West Ridge (1883). Anderson said the West Ridge—lost while sailing from the U.K. to India with 28 sailors in 1883—is the most likely candidate. A sample taken from the wreck showed that the coal on the seabed was British.

IOS-001  knees fastenings
Fastenings from one of the wrecks are seen spread across the seabed. Experts believe the ships may have sunk due to onboard coal explosions. Australian Transport Safety Bureau

That said, Anderson doubted that the identities of the two deepest wrecks found in the Indian Ocean would ever be confirmed without a wealthy private benefactor, because of their depth and remoteness. "These are the deepest wrecks so far located in the Indian Ocean, they're some of the most remote shipwrecks in the world," he said.

The ships were found between 2.2 and 2.4 miles below the surface. The wrecks were around 1,450 miles from the west Australian coast. For reference, one of the most famous shipwrecks in history—the RMS Titanic—sits at a depth of 2.37 miles, but a mere 370 miles off the Canadian coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

The deepest wreck ever found is the SS Rio Grande, a World War Two German blockade runner sunk by American ships in the South Atlantic Ocean in January 1944. The wreck restes 3.57 miles below the ocean, and was discovered in 1996 using sonar technology and remotely operated vehicles.

Given that around 95 percent of all oceans remain unexplored, there are no doubt deeper and more remote wrecks. As technology improves, more lost vessels will be found, whether through targeted searches or—as in this case—accidentally.