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Debris May Have Come From Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, U.S. Investigators Say


PARIS — American investigators have concluded that a large object that washed up Wednesday on the shore of RÉunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, came from a Boeing 777, making it likely that it was debris from Flight 370, the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared in March 2014.


A French official with knowledge of the investigation said that the object appeared to be a wing flap. The official said that the object was about 9 feet long and 3 feet wide, and that it appeared to have been in the water for a very long time.


The French aviation safety bureau, known as BEA, said in a statement on Wednesday that it “is studying the information on the airplane part found in La RÉunion, in coordination with our Malaysian and Australian colleagues and with the judicial authorities.” It added that “it is not possible at this hour to ascertain whether the part is from a B-777 and/or from MH370.”


The French official said that the authorities were in the process of designating a laboratory in France where the object would be taken for examination.


Agence France-Presse reported that the object was found by people cleaning a beach, and cited a witness who said it was partly encrusted with shells.


Aviation experts who viewed published photos of the object said it strongly resembled a part of a modern jetliner wing known as a flaperon, one of the control surfaces that pilots use to guide the aircraft in flight.


Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said it seemed clear from the photos that the object “is a wing flap, and it’s about the right size.”


Noting that investigators should be able to tell quickly whether the object came from a 777, Richard L. Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., said that “if that happens, there is only one possibility.”


Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, said on Wednesday afternoon that it was too early to know if the debris was from Flight 370 but that he had sent investigators to RÉunion.


“We hope we can identify it as soon as possible,” he told reporters at the United Nations, where he was attending a Security Council meeting on the other Malaysia Airlines disaster last year — the downing of Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.


Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer specializing in ocean currents who did extensive computer simulations last year of where Flight 370 wreckage might float, said that it was possible that pieces might now be reaching RÉunion, more than 3,000 miles from the plane’s last known location.


But the plane would have had to enter the water off northwestern Australia, he said. A series of separate analyses of the satellite “pings” coming from the aircraft’s engines in its last hours of flight have all pointed to its coming down off southwestern Australia, many hundreds of miles farther south — and that is where investigators from Australia, Malaysia and China have concentrated their search efforts.


Currents in the Indian Ocean move fairly quickly from east to west near the Equator, Mr. van Sebille said, but those to the south move more slowly. Debris entering the ocean in the primary search area would be much less likely to have drifted as far as RÉunion by now.


Martin Dolan, the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said in a telephone interview that “the drift models we have are that it is possible, not probable, that debris would wash ashore at RÉunion.”


Mr. van Sebille noted that even if the object found on the shore came from Flight 370, that did not mean that any other parts of the plane would be found nearby. “The way the ocean works is like a huge pinball machine,” and the plane’s wreckage “could be spread across an enormous area,” he said.


Flight 370, with 239 people on board, veered off its planned route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and stopped communicating with ground controllers shortly after midnight on March 8, 2014. It flew westward across the Malay Peninsula and then southward over the Indian Ocean, and it is presumed to have crashed there in very deep water, killing everyone aboard. Months of extensive air and sea search efforts have so far failed to find any trace of the aircraft.


Boeing said in a statement that it remained “committed to supporting the MH370 investigation and the search for the airplane” and would share its technical expertise with safety investigators, but it declined to comment specifically on the RÉunion object.


Aurelien Breeden reported from Paris, and Nicola Clark from Mobile, Ala. Keith Bradsher and Christopher Drew contributed reporting.

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Police officers carried a piece of debris that appeared to be an airplane part found on Réunion, a French island in the western Indian Ocean. Credit Yannick Pitou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indian Ocean debris almost certainly from Boeing 777: Malaysia

By Joe Brock, Thu Jul 30, 2015 11:53am EDT, Source


SAINT-DENIS, Reunion (Reuters) - Malaysia is "almost certain" plane debris washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion is part of a Boeing 777, its deputy transport minister said, heightening the possibility it could be wreckage from missing Flight MH370.


The object, which appears to be part of a wing, was being sent to a French military laboratory near Toulouse to verify if it is indeed the first trace of the lost plane to be found, police sources said.


Malaysian air investigators are due in Reunion on Friday.


National carrier Malaysia Airlines was operating a Boeing 777 on the ill-fated flight, which vanished in March last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history.

It was carrying 239 passengers and crew.


Search efforts led by Australia have focused on a broad expanse of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia. Reunion Island, where the debris was found washed up on Wednesday, is a French overseas department roughly 3,700 km (2,300 miles) away,


"The location is consistent with the drift analysis provided to the Malaysian investigation team, which showed a route from the southern Indian Ocean to Africa," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement.


There have been four serious accidents involving 777s in the 20 years since the widebody jet came into service. Only MH370 is thought to have crashed south of the equator.


"No hypothesis can be ruled out, including that it would come from a Boeing 777," the Reunion prefecture and the French Justice Ministry said in a joint statement.


Reunion, a volcanic island of just 850,000 people 600 km (370 miles) east of Madagascar, has seldom known such attention.


"It's incredible," said Marie-Noelle Le Nivet, a 49-year-old management consultant. "Our lovely beautiful little island and the whole world is watching. It's amazing."



Aviation experts who have seen widely circulated pictures of the debris said it may be a moving wing surface known as a flaperon, situated close to the fuselage.


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


Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said a number stamped on the 2-2.5 meters (6.5-8 ft) chunk of debris might speed up its verification.


"This kind of work is obviously going to take some time although the number may help to identify the aircraft parts, assuming that's what they are, much more quickly than might otherwise be the case," he said.


Investigators believe someone deliberately switched off MH370's transponder before diverting it thousands of miles off course. Most of the passengers were Chinese. Beijing said it was following developments closely.


For the families of those on board, lingering uncertainty surrounding the fate of the plane has been agony.


"Even if we find out that this piece of debris belongs to MH370, there is no way to prove that our people were with that plane," said Jiang Hui, 41, whose father was on the flight.


Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer representing some of the passengers' families, said a group of around 30 relatives had agreed they would proceed with a lawsuit against the airline if the debris was confirmed to be from MH370.



According to photographs, the piece of debris is fairly intact and with no burn marks or signs of impact. Flaperons help pilots control an aircraft while in flight.


Greg Feith, an aviation safety consultant and former crash investigator at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said his sources at Boeing had told him the piece was from a 777. Whether it was MH370 was not clear, he said.


"But we haven't lost any other 777s in that part of the world," Feith said.


Boeing declined to comment on the photos.


Oceanographers said vast, rotating currents sweeping the southern Indian Ocean could have deposited wreckage from MH370 thousands of kilometers from where the plane is thought to have crashed.


If confirmed to be from MH370, experts will try to retrace the debris drift back to its source. But they caution that the discovery was unlikely to provide any more precise information about the aircraft's final resting place.


"This wreckage has been in the water - if it is MH370 - for well over a year so it could have moved so far that it's not going to be that helpful in pinpointing precisely where the aircraft is," Australia's Truss told reporters.


Robin Robertson, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the timing and location of the debris made it "very plausible" that it came from MH370, given what was known about Indian Ocean currents.


Aviation consultant Feith said that if the part was from MH370, the bulk of the plane likely sank, while the flaperon had air pockets that allowed it to float below the water's surface.


Finding the wreckage would involve reverse engineering the ocean currents over 18 months, Feith said. "It's going to take a lot of math and science to figure that out," he said.


(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Emmanuel Jarry and Matthias Blamont in PARIS, Lincoln Feast and Swati Pandey in SYDNEY, Alwyn Scott in NEW YORK, Siva Govindasamy in SINGAPORE, Sui Lee Wee in BEIJING and Praveen Menon in KUALA LUMPUR; Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Alex Richardson, Paul Tait and Giles Elgood)

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