WHEN MH370 hunters stumbled across wreckage at the bottom of the sea, it sparked a glimmer of hope that the missing passenger jet had been found.
But underwater experts had in fact found the remains of two 19th-century shipwrecks that had mysteriously vanished on a dangerous shipping route in the Southern Indian Ocean.
The two wrecks were discovered 1,400 miles off the coast of Western Australia during a trawl in 2015 before maritime researchers were called in to help identify the vessels.
Experts studied sonar pictures and shipping records and were unable to name the two ships exactly – narrowing it down to just a few missing ships reported at the time.
It’s thought the ships laden with coal may have been sunk by a deadly explosion onboard – something that happened frequently when methane gas from the cargo built up.
While the cargo ships were not what the MH370 search team was hoping, it was a major discovery for maritime historians.
Malaysia Airlines lost contact with flight MH370 on March 8, 2014, close to Phuket Island in the Strait of Malacca.
The flight, which was carrying 239 passengers, disappeared just 39 minutes after it left Kuala Lumpur Airport for Beijing.
Despite searches by the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian authorities and private US firm Ocean Infinity, the plane has never been found and its final moments remain a mystery to this day.
Back in May 2015, a team of experts, including Naval OfficerWarring, were scouring an area of the South Indian Ocean for MH370 when they made a shocking discovery.
After first believing it could be wreckage from the doomed Boeing 777 – their hopes were quickly dashed when experts concluded it was the remains of a 19th-century cargo ship.
Peter told The Sun that no stone was left unturned during the search and said the equipment used was so advanced it was able to detect tiny pieces of coal from the disintegrated wreck.
He said: “We found a ship from the 1800s which we thought for six hours was the aircraft.
“It [equipment] picked up little pieces of coal from this ship that were about the size of your fist.”
He said the technology was able to pick up objects smaller than the size of a plane engine part – the measurements the equipment was designed to scope for.
He added: “We had a lot of confidence in the technology.
“I just don’t believe that we missed it.”
On closer inspection, sonar imagery showed parts of the ship’s water tank, anchors and small fittings – all thought to be part of a wooden construction, according to the Western Australian Museum report.
But the majority of the debris on the sea floor was coal thought to have spilled out of the hull due to a “catastrophic event such as an explosion”.
During the height of the Industrial Revolution, the demand for coal soared meaning more ships were transporting the dangerous cargo into Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
But holding huge amounts of coal under the ship’s deck meant that methane gas could build and easily spark or overheat causing huge blasts that would sink an entire vessel.
The shipwreck was located on a key shipping route to Southeast Asia, China,Australia and New Zealand the “Roaring Forties” – a track with strong westerly winds all year round in the Southern Hemisphere.
Experts believe the blast occurred as the ship set sail from Europe towards a Southeast Asian port such as Singapore or Hong Kong or even Australia.
While researchers were not able to pinpoint the ship’s exact identity, they did narrow it down to two likely vessels.
The wooden barque 395-tonne Magdala was lost in 1882 while on a voyage from Penarth to Ternate with a cargo of coal.
And wooden brig W. Gordon, a 286-tonne ship, was lost in 1876 on a voyage from Glasgow to Adelaide – mostly likely with coal onboard.
The ships had 15 to 30 crew onboard who were all killed, experts believe.
But just months later another Victorian shipping riddle was solved when a second shipwreck was spotted by advanced underwater equipment.
In December, a more complete wreckage was pictured using sonar just 22 miles from the site of the first 19th-century vessel.
It was thought to weigh around 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes and lay two miles below sea level.
There was no evidence to explain what may have sunk the iron ship – but experts believe its location means it may have been trying to reach a nearby Australian port for help.
The “Roaring Forties” shipping route was a treacherous journey with ships often battered by strong winds and storms – a possible explanation for the disaster.
Experts were able to narrow the wreck down to three vessels – the Kooringa, Lake Ontario, and the West Ridge.
Researchers believe that the West Ridge cargo ship is the most likely match.
The ship set sail for Bombay from Liverpool with a shipment of coal in its hull with a crew of 28 seamen in 1883.
But records at the time suggest the cargo was well-ventilated and it’s possible that high seas and bad weather could have caused the vessel to take on water and sink.
Speaking at the time, Dr Anderson from the Western Australian Museum said more work and funding was needed before his team could be certain over the identity of the wrecks.
“If it was a shipwreck that we could dive on… we’d be looking for any artifacts like ceramics or bottles or anything that could confirm providence,” he said.
“These are the deepest wrecks so far located in the Indian Ocean, they’re some of the most remote shipwrecks in the world, so we try to maximise any information.”
HUNT FOR JET CONTINUES
The co-ordinated search by Australia, Malaysia and China for MH370 continued until January 2016 after 1,046 days with no sign ofpassenger plane.
Marine robotics company Ocean Infinity carried out their search in 2018 with the permission of the Malaysian government and found nothing.
Passengers onboard the missing flight included Chinese calligraphers, a couple on their way home to their young sons after a delayed honeymoon, and a construction worker who hadn’t been home in a year.
Before the plane went dark and diverted back over Malaysia, in the opposite direction to where it was intended to fly, authorities believed they heard either the pilot or co-pilot say: “Good night Malaysian three seven zero.”
Early radar data found the plane travelled back over the Malacca Strait and into the Indian Ocean.
It is understood it ran out of fuel after about 7.5 hours and crashed into the ocean.
Read more on the Scottish Sun
A landing gear door was found at the home of a Madagascan fisherman in November, 2022 in a discovery some believe suggests the aircraft was crashed deliberately.
Forty-one pieces of the plane have been recovered in total.