Experts identify 1800s-era shipwrecks found in MH370 search

A sonar image shows one of two shipwrecks found in the search for the missing MH370 jetliner off the east coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean. Photo by Western Australian Museum/EPA-EFE

May 4 (UPI) — Australian maritime officials on Friday identified a pair of old shipwrecks that were found during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The Western Australian Museum said in a report Friday the shipwreck sites were part of the historic Roaring 40s trade route — on which ships carried coal to and from Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan during the 1800s.

“We used a combination of all of the data … historical research and maritime archaeological analyses to determine both wrecks were, in fact, 19th Century merchant sailing ships — one wooden and one iron — both carrying coal,” Dr. Ross Anderson, the museum’s curator of maritime archaeology, said.

None of the wooden ship’s hull structure or loose timbers were seen at the site, as they’ve entirely disintegrated after many decades under immense water pressure. Only the remains of the vessel’s coal cargo and metal objects — like fastenings, anchors and fittings — were found.

It’s believed to be the brig W Gordon, which disappeared in 1877, or the barque Magdala, lost in 1882.

The wreck of the other ship was more intact, with sonar and video images revealing it was an iron vessel with at least two decks.

Experts believe it’s the barque West Ridge, which was lost in 1883 with a crew of 28 while sailing from England to India.

“Most of the material widely scattered on the seabed consists of the remains of the coal cargo that spilled out of the hull prior to it striking the seabed,” Anderson said. “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.”

According to the report, both ships were likely to have carried crews of between 15 to 30 men. Some captains also traveled with their wives and children on voyages.

The Australian Transport Safety Board found the 1800s-era shipwrecks at the bottom of the Indian Ocean while searching for the missing flight.

Flight 370 disappeared in March 2014 after leaving Kuala Lumpur, en route to Beijing with 239 people on board. During the flight, the plane veered off course over the Indian Ocean between Malaysia and Vietnam. The plane has still not been found and investigators are not yet sure why it went off course.


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