MH370: Growing confidence debris is from missing plane

Head of search effort says wing part ‘looks very much like specific part’ of missing jet

Debris that is probably from a plane has washed up on Reunion Island off the east coast of Africa. Police say its premature to link it to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Video: Reuters


Plane debris washed up on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean is almost certainly part of a Boeing 777, a Malaysian official and aviation experts said, potentially the biggest breakthrough in the search for missing Flight MH370.

A two metre barnacle-covered section of aircraft debris was being flown to Toulouse on Friday for identification amid hopes it is the first physical evidence from the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jet 16 months ago.

Malaysian investigators are expected in Reunion on Friday and the object, identified by aviation experts as part of a wing, would then be sent to a French military laboratory near Toulouse for checks, French police sources said.

National carrier Malaysia Airlines was operating a Boeing 777 when the flight disappeared in March last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, creating one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history.

It was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

The plane piece was found on Wednesday washed up on Reunion, a volcanic island of 850,000 people that is a full part of France, located in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

Reunion is roughly 3,700kms from the broad expanse of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia where search efforts have focused, but officials and experts said currents could have carried wreckage that way, thousands of kilometres from where the plane is thought to have crashed.

MH370 is believed to be the only 777 to have crashed south of the equator since the jet came into service 20 years ago.


If the debris is confirmed to be from MH370, experts will try to retrace its drift back to where the bulk of the plane likely sank on impact. However, they cautioned that the discovery was unlikely to provide any more precise information about the aircraft’s final resting place.

Nevertheless, the search area for MH370 could be refined, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said.

“I presume that if this wreckage does turn out to be from a Boeing 777 that the analysts will do their best ... to try to work out exactly where it came from,” he told Australian radio.

“I don’t know how accurate that will be but I dare say it will give us some more evidence and it might enable us to further refine the search area, it might,” Abbott said.

Aviation experts who have seen widely circulated pictures of the piece of debris, which is about 2-2.5 metres long, said it may be a moving wing surface known as a flaperon.

France 2 television showed a picture of the part with the figures “657 BB” stamped on its interior. That corresponds to a code in the 777 manual identifying it as a flaperon and telling workers to place it on the right wing, according to a copy of a Boeing document that appeared on aviation websites.

“It is almost certain that the flaperon is from a Boeing 777 aircraft,” Malaysian deputy transport minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said.

Boeing has declined to comment on the photos.

A source close to the French investigation said the plan was to transfer the wing flap to France’s European mainland, along with a fragment of luggage that had also been found in the area.

“We’re trying to get the debris of wing and the bag fragment sent off as soon as possible, if possible Friday, arriving probably on Saturday,” said the source. The wing part would be sent to a military unit near Toulouse, while the luggage fragment may go to a police unit that specialises in DNA tests.

A spokesman for Australian deputy prime minister Warren Truss said a preliminary look indicated the luggage had not been in the water for long.

Mr Truss said the search for the main wreckage site would ramp up again once the stormy southern hemisphere winter had passed.

“There is still a significant part of the priority search area that we haven’t looked at ... I’m still confident that we’ll be able to find the aircraft in that area,” he told Australia’s Sky television.

Investigators believe someone may have deliberately switched off MH370’s transponder before diverting the plane thousands of kilometers off course. Most of the passengers were Chinese. Beijing has said it was following developments closely.