Search for missing Malaysia plane yields uncharted shipwreck

The MH370 Search May Take Another Year

SYDNEY (AP) - Search crews hunting for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the desolate ocean waters off western Australia have discovered an old shipwreck, officials said Wednesday.

The unexpected finding came when sonar equipment on board a search vessel scouring the Indian Ocean for the missing jetliner detected a cluster of objects nearly 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) below the surface, according to a statement from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is heading up the hunt.

Although officials suspected the objects were probably not from the Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8, 2014, they decided to take a closer look just in case. A second ship sent down an autonomous underwater vehicle - essentially, an unmanned sub - which revealed a large number of small objects and several larger items, the biggest 6 meters (20 feet) long.

The debris field appeared to be man-made but wasn't typical of an aircraft. Still, crews sent down a camera to be sure.

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Search for missing Malaysia plane yields uncharted shipwreck
Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 offer prayers at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2015. The visit to the temple comes nearly a year after Malaysian Airlines MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March 2014. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of one of the Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries before offering prayers at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2015. The visit to the temple comes nearly a year after Malaysian Airlines MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March 2014. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Relative of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as he gathers outside Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's office in Putrajaya on February 18, 2015. Chinese relatives of MH370 passengers gathered outside the Malaysian prime minister's office to demand his government rescind its declaration that all on board the plane were presumed dead. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 offer prayers at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2015. The visit to the temple comes nearly a year after Malaysian Airlines MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March 2014. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, cries during a protest outside the Malaysia Airlines office in Subang on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on February 12, 2015. Chinese relatives of passengers on missing flight MH370 protested outside the Malaysian Airlines office demanding Malaysia withdraw the statement that all the passengers are dead. About 15 people gathered outside the gates wearing white caps and red t-shirts with words: 'Pray for MH370.' AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of one of the Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries before offering prayers at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2015. The visit to the temple comes nearly a year after Malaysian Airlines MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March 2014. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The Malaysian government says the plane is believed to have went down in a remote area of the Indian Ocean and everyone on board was killed.
Malaysian activists hold banners during a protest accusing US news channels of unprofessional reporting on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, outside the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2014. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed on April 3 'we will not rest' until the fate of Flight MH370 is known, as Australia called it 'the most difficult search in human history'. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Malaysian activists hold banners during a protest accusing US news channels of unprofessional reporting on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, outside the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2014. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed on April 3 'we will not rest' until the fate of Flight MH370 is known, as Australia called it 'the most difficult search in human history'. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 04: Chief Coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (Ret'd) addresses the media at press conference at Dumas House on April 4, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Fourteen planes and nine ships resumed in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia today. The airliner disappeared on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board and is suspected to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Malaysian activists hold banners during a protest accusing US news channels of unprofessional reporting on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, outside the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on April 3, 2014. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed on April 3 'we will not rest' until the fate of Flight MH370 is known, as Australia called it 'the most difficult search in human history'. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Communications specialist Hidetaka Sato, on a Japan Coast Guard Gulfstream aircraft, looks out of a window searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 over the southern Indian Ocean on April 1, 2014. Malaysia revealed the full radio communications with the pilots of its missing flight on April 1, but the routine exchanges shed no light on the mystery as an Indian Ocean search for wreckage bore on with no end in sight. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Rob GRIFFITH (Photo credit should read ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Page 1 of the full transcript of communications between flight MH370 and Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control released by the Malaysian defense minister on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Page 2 of the full transcript of communications between flight MH370 and Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control released by the Malaysian defense minister on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Malaysian officials show Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 the new search area at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on March 28, 2014. Relatives of the Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have demanded China mount its own inquiry into the disappearance, a letter shows. The document, sent to Beijing's special envoy in Kuala Lumpur, denounced Malaysia's handling of the search and asked the Chinese government to set up its own 'investigation office'. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo posted to Twitter by China's CCTVNEWS of an object spotted and photographed in the new Flight MH370 search area on Friday, March 28, 2014.

The tweet read:

Picture: suspicious object spotted by New Zealand military plane on Friday. #MH370 http://t.co/KWCt1zrv2k

INDIAN OCEAN - This handout Satellite image made available by the AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) shows a map of the new search area in the Indian Ocean for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 on March 28, 2014. The revised search area, 680 miles to the north of previous searches, comes after a new radar analysis suggests the jetliner may have run out of fuel sooner than first believed.
Messages from schoolchildren to Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on March 28, 2014. Relatives of the Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have demanded China mount its own inquiry into the disappearance, a letter shows. The document, sent to Beijing's special envoy in Kuala Lumpur, denounced Malaysia's handling of the search and asked the Chinese government to set up its own 'investigation office'. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Malaysian Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein shows pictures of possible debris during his statement on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Putra World Trade Center (PWTC) in Kuala Lumpur on March 26, 2014. Malaysia drew criticism on March 25 for its announcement that the missing passenger jet had been lost at sea, even before any wreckage was found. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force AP-3C Orion arrives back at RAAF Base Peace at Bullsbrook, some 35 kms north of Perth after continuing the search for debris or wreckage of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean, on March 26, 2014. Six countries have joined the search for the missing plane believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. AFP PHOTO/POOL/ROB GRIFFITH (Photo credit should read ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)
A Malaysia Airlines plane (below) prepares to go onto the runway and pass by a stationary Chinese Ilyushin 76 aircraft (top) at Perth International Airport on March 25, 2014. Wild weather halted the search on March 25 for wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines jet that crashed into the Indian Ocean, frustrating attempts to determine why it veered off course and bring closure to grieving relatives. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Updated search map in hunt for missing Flight MH370 on Monday, March 24, 2014.
Satellite image shared with Australian officials by China in the search for Flight MH370 on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
A Chinese woman takes a photo of a message board set up by relatives of passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 24, 2014. Ships and planes from several nations swarmed over the southern Indian Ocean on March 24 as mounting evidence of floating debris energised the search for Malaysia's missing passenger jet. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Australia's deputy prime minister said the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 cannot go on forever, and discussions are already under way between Australia, China and Malaysia as to whether to call off the hunt within weeks. No trace has been found of the Boeing 777 aircraft, which disappeared a year ago this week carrying 239 passengers and crew, in what has become one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
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"It's a fascinating find, but it's not what we're looking for," Peter Foley, the ATSB's Director of the Operational Search for Flight 370, said in a statement. "We're not pausing in the search for MH370, in fact the vessels have already moved on to continue the mission."

Michael McCarthy, a senior maritime archaeologist at the West Australian Maritime Museum, said the wreck was of a cargo ship built in the mid-to-late 19th century, and could be one of hundreds lost during voyages across the Indian Ocean.

"We've got quite a lot of stories about ships that sank in the Indian Ocean mid-voyage and you would be struggling to tell which is which unless you had a complete catalogue of all the ones lost," he said.

Experts had predicted Flight 370 search crews would probably stumble across the wreckage of some ships, given that they once sank regularly due to old age or bad weather, McCarthy said. But it would be difficult to identify this particular wreck without getting a closer look and knowing which ports it was traveling between, he said.

"Being a fairly common type of cargo ship from the 19th century with no obvious cargo remains there, I doubt that anyone would pay the enormous cost of going down to look at it," McCarthy said.

Last month, officials announced that they would expand the search area for Flight 370 by another 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) if the plane is not found by the end of May. Crews have now covered 75 percent of the original search area and are working in the southern portion of the expanded search zone to take advantage of the last dregs of decent weather before winter sets in.

One of the four search vessels, which has the autonomous underwater vehicle on board, has withdrawn from the hunt because the worsening weather has made it too difficult for crews to launch the sub.

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