A Strange Discovery In The Search For MH370

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues more than a year after its unexplained disappearance en route to Beijing on March 14, 2014. Search officials believe the plane may have been diverted off course as it flew toward Vietnam, somehow turning south and toward the southern portion of the Indian Ocean. On Wednesday, MH370 searchers scouring the area made a bizarre discovery — but it's not one they were looking for.

While combing the massive 23,000-square-mile search zone of the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia, where officials believe the missing Boeing 777 crashed more than a year ago, searchers stumbled upon an uncharted shipwreck. “It’s a fascinating find,” Peter Foley, director of the operational search for MH370, said in a statement Wednesday. “But it’s not what were looking for.”

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search operation, the ship Fugro Equator's deep tow system spotted the debris field, which was strewn on the seabed more than 12,000 feet below the ocean's surface. The debris field appeared man-made, so at first, there was hope that it would be wreckage from MH370.

Unfortunately, it wasn't — but search officials had to check it out just in case. They diverted the MH370 search momentarily to send an underwater vehicle with a high-resolution sonar scan to investigate the unusual debris. Foley explained:

We were cautious about this. There were characteristics of the contact that made it unlikely to be MH370, but there were also aspects that generated interest, multiple small bright reflections in a relatively small area of otherwise featureless seabed. All the sonar data we gather goes through a detailed analysis and an exhaustive review process to ascertain its quality, coverage and most importantly any sonar contacts of interest.

Here are the images the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released of the uncharted shipwreck...

Although this shipwreck doesn't lead searchers any closer to the wreckage of MH370, Australian search officials believe this strange discovery was worth it. In fact, it may give search teams more hope that if the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is indeed at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, their search equipment will pick up on it.

Foley said in a statement:

Obviously, we’re disappointed that it wasn’t the aircraft, but we were always realistic about the likelihood. This event has really demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well. It’s shown that if there’s a debris field in the search area, we’ll find it.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the images of the shipwreck will be sent to marine archaeologists for identification. Meanwhile, MH370 searchers will expand their operations — and possibly double in size — if the missing Boeing 777 isn't found.

Images: Getty Images, Australian Transport Safety Bureau (3)