Sonar vehicle used in MH370 search lost after crashing into underwater volcano

The Fugro Discovery, one of the specialist search vessels being used in the hunt for MH370.

Story highlights

  • A vehicle called a towfish strikes a 2,200-meter-high mud volcano, sinks to the ocean floor
  • The vessel towing it will return to Western Australia for a replacement cable, officials say
  • A search of the complete area is still expected to take until mid-2017, authorities say

(CNN)A sonar vehicle used in the search for the wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been lost after striking an underwater volcano in the southern Indian Ocean, according to search officials.

The vehicle -- called a towfish -- was being towed behind the Fugro Discovery, a specialist search vessel engaged in the hunt for the missing airliner, when it struck the 2,200-meter-high mud volcano Sunday, according to the Joint Agency Coordination Center, or JACC.
As a result, the towfish's cable broke, sending the vehicle and 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) of cable to the ocean floor.
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The JACC, an Australian government agency created to coordinate search efforts for MH370, said that no crew members were injured.
It was believed the towfish, which scans the ocean floor, could be recovered, the JACC said in a statement.
The Fugro Discovery was returning to Fremantle, Western Australia, where a replacement cable could be installed, while crew members readied a spare towfish for use, the statement said. It was expected to reach Fremantle in five days.
The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau, the national transport safety investigator, said in a statement that it would take about 12 days for the vessel to return to the previous search location. Searching the entire search area was still expected to take until mid-2016, it said.
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Efforts to find the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight have continued ever since it disappeared with 239 people on board during a journey from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing in March 2014.
Last July, airplane debris was found on the shores of the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean that French investigators subsequently confirmed had come from the vanished flight.
Thai and Malaysian officials are investigating whether a large piece of curved metal found by a fisherman on the southern Thai coast on Friday could be from the aircraft.