MH370 crash: France begins new search for debris off Réunion

Authorities on Indian Ocean island say 90 pieces of debris sent for analysis

A French serviceman looks for debris near Réunion: the search area off the island’s east coast measures 120km by 40km. Photograph: Patrick Becot/ECPAD

A French serviceman looks for debris near Réunion: the search area off the island’s east coast measures 120km by 40km. Photograph: Patrick Becot/ECPAD

 
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The operation was announced 24 hours after a public prosecutor declared there was a “strong possibility” that a wing flaperon, discovered on a beach on Réunion, was from the Boeing 777 that disappeared in March last year with 239 people on board.

A flaperon is a movable panel on the rear of the wing that can be moved to expand the wing’s size during takeoff and landing.

Jacques Luthaud, commander of the French armed forces in the region, said the search area off the island’s east coast measured 120km by 40km.

“The area to cover is very big,” he said. “We have started from the place where the flaperon was discovered and gone back a week calculating the sea currents with the help of information from the French weather bureau.”

Since the discovery of the flaperon nine days ago, 90 pieces of debris have been sent for examination to determine whether they are aircraft fragments, authorities on the island said.

Diplomatic tensions

While Malaysian officials have stated the wing debris is definitely from flight MH370, French officials heading a legal investigation have been considerably more cautious.

In Beijing, Chinese relatives of missing MH370 passengers marched to the Malaysian embassy to voice their frustration with the search progress. Some demanded to be taken to Réunion to see the suspected debris.

The mayor of Saint-André, where the debris was found, has announced an inch-by-inch search of the coastline and said any passengers’ families who wished to travel to the island would be welcomed by locals.

French soldiers have also been deployed to comb the beaches and coastline, plus gendarmes and helicopters.

The French state’s representative in Réunion, Dominique Sorain, yesterday reiterated the Paris deputy prosecutor’s line that there was a “strong possibility” that the wing flaperon was from the missing aircraft.

Washed up on beach

There is growing unease in France, and among the families of MH370 passengers, over a statement from Kuala Lumpur.

On Thursday, the Malaysian transport minister claimed that seat cushions and a window had been found on Réunion and handed over to France, which later denied that it had received any new debris.

However, Christophe Naudin, a French air safety specialist, told L’Express magazine that while the language of the announcements from the Malaysian prime minister and the French public prosecutor might have been different, they were saying the same thing.

“The Boeing technicians confirmed that [the flaperon] was a piece of a 777, and no other aircraft of this type is reported missing. The Malaysia Airlines experts then noted elements that linked it with MH370. No airline could have lost this kind of piece without reporting it, so that leaves one possibility,” Mr Naudin said.

He said the prosecutor’s office was showing an “excessive administrative precaution that revealed an ignorance of the aeronautic business”. – (Guardian service)