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The plane debris was found on the beach in Saint-Andre of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on 29 July. Photo: Reuters
The plane debris was found on the beach in Saint-Andre of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on 29 July. Photo: Reuters

MH370: Malaysia confirms plane debris is from the missing plane

The working assumption is still that the piece came from Malaysia Airlines flight because it's a Boeing 777 component and there are no missing planes of that type

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday confirmed that a jet part found on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean came from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the first physical evidence from the plane that went missing almost 17 months ago.

Investigators “conclusively" linked the piece to the missing plane, Najib said. A French prosecutor stopped short of that assessment, saying only that officials have a “strong presumption" that the debris being studied in a government laboratory is from the MH370.

The so-called flaperon bore no identifying marks to show definitively that it was installed on the Boeing Co. 777’s wing, said a US official, who was not authorized to speak about the probe. The working assumption is still that the piece came from MH370 because it’s unquestionably a 777 component and there are no any other missing jets of that type, the official said.

Najib’s announcement validated authorities’ hypothesis that the plane carrying 239 people crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia. But the discovery of the piece thousands of kilometers away on France’s Reunion Island doesn’t pinpoint where the aircraft took its fatal plunge in March 2014—and why it strayed so far from its intended Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route.

“Today, 515 days since the plane disappeared, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts have conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion island is indeed from MH370," Najib said at a briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

‘Strong Presumption’

The inquiry into the longest search for a modern commercial jet is a multilayered effort involving French judicial authorities—Reunion Island is French soil—and the Malaysian government, as well as aviation accident investigators from the US, Australia and France. Specialists from Chicago-based Boeing are also participating.

Little more than hour after Najib spoke, deputy Paris prosecutor Serge Mackowiak used the “strong presumption" characterization when meeting with reporters in Paris.

French investigators have gotten technical information from Boeing and from Malaysian aviation officials, but are just starting their own review, Mackowiak said. A French defence ministry lab will conduct microscopic analyses and chemical studies of the flaperon for clues to the nature of the disaster. A suitcase found on Reunion Island, across the Indian Ocean from MH370’s presumed resting place, is being evaluated separately.

“We continue to share our technical expertise and analysis with civil investigating authorities," Boeing said in a statement.

‘Additional Piece’

Lab evaluations of the flaperon will take weeks or months, and still may not shed much light on the reasons why the plane went into the sea, according to John Cox, a former airline pilot who is president of consultant Safety Operating Systems.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a great ‘aha’ moment tomorrow that says we have figured it out," Cox said in a telephone interview. “This is going to be an additional piece of evidence, but I don’t think in and of itself it’s going to be conclusive."

In the absence of any wreckage, other theories had proliferated: perhaps the jet landed in central Asia, or perhaps it didn’t really double back across the Malaysian peninsula as radar tracks indicated. The discovery in the Indian Ocean settles that question.

“This is indeed a major breakthrough for us in resolving the disappearance of MH370," Malaysia Airlines said in a statement. “We expect and hope that there would be more objects to be found which would be able to help resolve this mystery."

Families’ Pain

Most of those on board the doomed jet were Chinese nationals, and the hunt for any evidence—week after week, month after month—took a toll on family members left to grieve and wonder about their loved ones’ fate. Those emotions swam to the surface again as Najib prepared for his brief, televised remarks.

“We still want to ask them some key questions," Jiang Hui, a representative of a committee for Chinese families from MH370, said by phone. “Did the plane make landing? Had all passengers boarded the plane?"

The link to MH370 gives fresh momentum to a hunt that already has scanned more than 55,000 square kilometers of the seabed southwest of Australia. The search area is about 3,800 kilometers southeast of Reunion Island.

Any trapped air in the debris would have made it buoyant, floating at or just below the surface where ocean currents have the greatest effect, according to Cox, who participated in dozens of accident investigations in the US while working as an airline pilot.

The piece is relatively large, suggesting that it was the product of a low-speed crash that would leave a large debris field, Cox said. Some safety experts have theorized that MH370 was destroyed in a high-speed crash, because months of searching with ships using deep-sea sonar yielded no wreckage. Bloomberg

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