Thursday 29 September 2016

Plane debris 'almost certain' to be from MH370

Jonathan Pearlman in Sydney

Published 31/07/2015 | 02:30

French gendarmes and police carry a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, July 29, 2015. France's BEA air crash investigation agency said it was examining the debris, in coordination with Malaysian and Australian authorities, to determine whether it came from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished last year in one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history. Picture taken July 29, 2015. REUTERS/Zinfos974/Prisca Bigot
French gendarmes and police carry a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, July 29, 2015. France's BEA air crash investigation agency said it was examining the debris, in coordination with Malaysian and Australian authorities, to determine whether it came from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished last year in one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history. Picture taken July 29, 2015. REUTERS/Zinfos974/Prisca Bigot
A relative hears of crash in 2014

Aviation authorities believe a six-foot bit of airline wreckage with the code number BB670, found on Reunion island in the Indian Ocean, appears to be part of a wing from the missing MH370 aircraft.

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In what appeared to be the biggest breakthrough in the almost 17-month search for the Boeing 777, the debris, which locals said was "covered in shells", was found during a clean-up of a beach on the east coast of the French island, about 100 miles from Mauritius and 4,000 miles from the aircraft's last known location.

As Malaysian officials were dispatched to the island, the country's deputy transport minister said said it was "almost certain" that the debris belongs to a Boeing 777 aircraft.

"It is almost certain that the flaperon is from a Boeing 777 aircraft. Our chief investigator here told me this," Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said.

Investigators in the United States said images of the object indicated it was from a Boeing 777 - and no other such aircraft aside from MH370 is known to have gone missing above water.

A US official said investigators had a "high degree of confidence" the object was from MH370.

Ocean experts said the debris was discovered exactly where an object would wash up from the presumed crash site, which is directly to the east off the coast of Australia.

The plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared on March 8 last year during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing; no trace of the aircraft has been found.

"It certainly looks like an aerofoil from a large aircraft," said Martin Dolan, the head of the Australian transport safety bureau, which is overseeing the search.

"It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island."

Mr Dolan said authorities should be able to confirm whether the debris was from MH370 within 24 hours.

French authorities are also investigating the debris and have contacted Boeing about the find. The object is believed to be a flaperon, a moving part from the wing that helps to control the aircraft's rolling.

Tom Ballantyne, an aviation expert, said the wreckage, if confirmed, could help to locate the plane but would not necessarily assist with understanding the cause of the crash.

"[It] is not going to answer the really important questions about why it happened and what happened," he told CNN. "They're going to need to find the aircraft itself."

Search teams based in Western Australia have conducted underwater searches across about half of a 46,000 square mile targeted zone but have found no evidence of the plane.

Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi, an ocean expert from the University of Western Australia, said the latest find "can only have come from" the current search zone and more debris was likely to emerge.

"The debris coming in there can only have originated to the east of the region where they found it," he said.

"The current goes anticlockwise. It goes north from the crash site and then goes west. If this came from the MH370, other pieces will most likely be coming in the region."

Malaysia Airlines said it was "premature" to speculate on whether the object came from the plane.

"We're working with the relevant authorities to confirm the matter," a spokesperson for the airline said.

Family members of passengers expressed caution about the find, which could potentially confirm their worst fears.

"My initial reaction was I wasn't sure whether to believe it because there have been so many false alarms," Sarah Bajc, whose boyfriend Philip Wood was on the plane, told NBC News.

"If it is from the plane then any hope that I might have had that this plane landed safely somewhere is harder to believe. My thread of hope goes away."

Sara Weeks, of Christchurch, New Zealand, whose brother Paul Weeks was on board Flight 370, said it was hard to believe that after so long, a large piece of the plane could actually show up.

"If it is from MH370, then I still have all the same questions. Where is it? Where is the rest of it? What happened to it?" she said.

Family members of those on board Flight 370 have been left in agonising limbo since the plane vanished. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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