Sonar vehicle searching for MH370 hits volcano, lost at ocean bottom

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Jan. 25, 2016 at 8:55 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A deep-sea sonar vehicle searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been lost after colliding with a submerged volcano in the Indian Ocean.

The sonar vehicle -- known as a towfish -- collided with a 2,200-meter mud volcano on Sunday. The vehicle and 4,500-meter cable attaching it to the Fugro Discovery search vessel are now on the ocean floor.

Australia has been leading the search for MH370 at the request of the Malaysian government. Fugro, a Dutch company that provides deep-sea surveys, later received a contract to join the search.

The Boeing 777 disappeared March 8, 2014, after leaving Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 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. Investigators are unsure why the plane went off route.

"The towfish collided with a mud volcano which rises 2,200 meters from the seafloor resulting in the vehicle's tow cable breaking. The towfish and 4,500 meters of cable became separated from the vessel and are now resting on the seafloor," the Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Center said in a statement. "There were no injuries to crew and it is believed it will be possible to recover the towfish at a later date."

Meanwhile, a curved barnacle-encrusted piece of metallic debris weighing more than 200 pounds found Saturday on a beach in Thailand has been identified as likely a piece from a Japanese H-2 rocket -- not from MH370 -- due to the placement of bolts and numbers etched on it resembling the rocket's honeycomb launch fairing.

"It is very likely that the debris which has been discovered in Thailand is part of a rocket which [Mitsubishi Heavy Industries] launched from Japan in the past," Kengo Tatsukawa, public relations manager for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, told VOA News.

Malaysian officials and a Thai aviation team will head to the Nakhon Si Thammarat province where it was found to inspect and collect the metal debris.

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