Picture shows plane sunk to create artificial reef, not missing Malaysian airliner MH370

·3-min read

A post has been shared multiple times on social media showing a plane underwater with claims that it belongs to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that went missing in 2014 with 239 people aboard. But this is false: the image shows a plane sunk in 2019 by the Jordanian government to serve as an artificial reef in the Red Sea. Flight MH370 is still missing as of May 2023. 

Malaysia Airplane MH370 that disappeared 9 years ago has been found under ocean with no human skeleton. The plane had 239 passengers on board,” reads a tweet published on May 2, 2023. 

The post, with an image of a damaged plane resting on the seabed, has been retweeted more than 20,000 times and received more than 140,000 likes. 

<span>A screenshot of the false claim, taken on May 5, 2023</span>
A screenshot of the false claim, taken on May 5, 2023

The claim also appeared on Facebook and elsewhere on Twitter with additional images.

MH370 mystery

Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 (archived here) while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane was carrying 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from 14 different nations. 

After a three-year hunt (archived here) coordinated by Malaysia, China and Australia, the search ended in January 2017. No conclusion (archived here) was drawn about what happened to the flight. 

Meanwhile, families of those onboard the missing airplane continue to call on the Malaysian government to restart the search after Texas-based technology company, Ocean Infinity, reported it was ready to embark on another expedition after a failed first attempt (archived here). 

The claim that the wreckage of MH370 has recently been found is false. 

Artificial reef 

Using reverse image searches, AFP Fact Check traced the original photos to an Instagram account (archived here) called “deepbluedivecenter”. The Deep Blue Dive Center is a scuba diving operation based in Aqaba, Jordan.  

On April 6, 2023, the dive center posted a video on its Instagram account showing the exact same plane seen in the picture -- which is in fact a screen grab from this video. All the details match perfectly, including the plane's damaged nose cone. 

<span>Screenshots showing the Instagram video (left) and the false post (right)</span>
Screenshots showing the Instagram video (left) and the false post (right)

The caption on the dive centre's Instagram post reads "Tristar Airplane Wreck" and notes that the location is "Red Sea, Aqaba".

A Google search for the keywords “Tristar dive site” and “Dive site in Aqaba” led to another Instagram account named “Bubba Aqaba” (archived here) belonging to an underwater photographer in Aqaba. 

Several videos and pictures on the page were taken during scuba diving expeditions. One of them shows the TriStar with its damaged nose cone. 

<span>A screenshot of Bubba Aqaba's page showing a video of the TriStar, taken on May 4, 2023 </span>
A screenshot of Bubba Aqaba's page showing a video of the TriStar, taken on May 4, 2023

The account holder confirmed to AFP Fact Check that this site is not the final resting place of flight MH370. 

Meanwhile, information on the dive centre’s Facebook page shows that the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar is a commercial plane that was out of service and parked at Aqaba's King Hussein International Airport for several years (archived here).  

The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) purchased it to sink and use as an artificial reef in a barren area in the northern part of the Gulf of Aqaba (archived here).  

The TriStar was sunk in 2019, joining a military Hercules C130 aircraft, which was also scuttled in Aqaba two years earlier. 

A YouTube video further shows a scuba diver filming the TriStar wreckage. 

Mohammed Leddawi, operations manager at Deep Blue Dive Center, confirmed that Aqaba has two planes — the C130 and the Tristar — both sunk by the government. 

The picture recently shared on social media "is not the wreckage of the missing plane,” Leddawi said.