'MH370 Wreck' Turns Out to Be 19th Century Coal Ship

Investigators searching for lost flight MH370 hoped they could put the mystery to rest when they detected wreckage deep below the Indian Ocean in 2015.

Two wrecks—found in May and December of that year—were discovered around 21 miles apart and more than 2 miles below the surface of the ocean. Investigators hoped that either one could be the resting place of the infamous passenger jet, which disappeared with 239 people on board in March 2014.

Unfortunately, new analysis shows that both wrecks are 19th century merchant ships, and not the lost plane.

Scientists at the Western Australian Museum were asked by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to examine sonar and video data taken from both wreck sites to provide further clarity on what had been discovered.

A woman leaves a message of support and hope for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in central Kuala Lumpur March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Experts concluded that the ships—one wooden and one iron—were most likely used to transport coal, remains of which could still be seen on the seabed. Though they were unable to determine the exact identities of the wrecks, the scientists provided some likely candidates using shipping records and analysis of the debris.

The wooden ship is believed to have weighed around 250 to 880 tons, and probably sank after a "catastrophic event" such as an explosion, museum curator of maritime archaeology Ross Anderson said. Explosions were a common danger for coal ships in this era, Anderson explained.

Though the hull of the ship had rotted away, its cargo and metal fastenings were still visible. An object dubbed "the mystery chest" could be seen amid the wreckage, and was the largest feature at the site. The analysis concluded that it was an iron water tank.

The iron ship was in better shape, found lying upright on the seafloor. The data indicated it weighted between 1,100 and 1,655 tons and had at least two decks.

Anderson said both lost vessels likely had a crew of between 15 and 30 sailors, as well as additional passengers. It was unclear how many people died in each accident.

"For the wooden ship the brig W. Gordon and the barque Magdala are two possible candidates," Anderson said, "for the iron ship the barques Kooringa (1894), Lake Ontario (1897) and West Ridge (1883) are possible, with the West Ridge best fitting the evidence."

mh370 search
Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Russell Adams looks out from the cockpit of an AP-3C Orion whilst on a search mission in the Southern Indian Ocean on March 26, 2014 in Perth, Australia. The search for the missing MH370 has still not discovered its fate. Paul Kane/Getty Images

Though the discovery has not revealed the mystery of MH370, it sheds light on two long-forgotten and unsolved tragedies. "Then, as now, the disappearance of so many lives would have had a devastating impact on maritime families and communities," Anderson said.

Ocean Infinity is the company now leading the search for MH370 and its passengers. A company press release on Monday said there is no new evidence of the lost flight. Small amounts of debris have been found during the four years since it disappeared, but MH370's final resting place remains unknown.

The plane went missing during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. Malaysia, Australia and China launched a joint search effort that cost $200 million and covered 46,000 square miles of ocean by the time it was abandoned in January 2017. Ocean Infinity restarted the search in January 2018 as part of a "no find no fee" $70 million contract with the Malaysian government.