MH370: Boeing 777 wing that could match missing plane found on the French island of Reunion

The piece of debris could be from a Boeing 777, an aviation expert has said

Doug Bolton,Simon Calder
Thursday 30 July 2015 11:03
French gendarmes and police inspect a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion
French gendarmes and police inspect a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion

Aeroplane wreckage has washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, which air safety investigators have a "high degree of confidence" is a piece of the missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 plane.

Writing on a blog, French aviation security expert and former pilot Xavier Tytelman, said the images showed an "incredible" similarity between the appearance of the aircraft which went missing in March last year and the wing of a Boeing 777.

Comparing Boeing plane schematics and the images from the scene, Tytelman said there is a small possibility that the wreckage found could be the remnants of MH370.

The Boeing 777 has only been involved in five 'hull loss' incidents in its history. This term is used when the aircraft is damaged beyond repair, or when it has gone missing.

One of these accidents was the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, after it was hit by a missile while over Ukraine in July last year. The rest of the accidents (excluding MH370) all took place over land, at airports in London, Cairo and San Francisco, leaving only one missing 777 in the world.

Confirmation that the wreckage is indeed from a Boeing 777 would suggest it is likely to be from MH370.

Mr Tytelman added that the piece of debris, which resembles part of a wing, seems relatively intact, and reported that police on the scene believed it could have been underwater for about a year.

A US official told the Associated Press that air safety investigators had a “high degree of confidence” the aircraft debris was a “flaperon”, a wing component unique to the Boeing 777.

A French official close to the investigation also confirmed that French law enforcement officers were on site to examine the debris.

Certainly, La Reunion is far away from the suspected crash site of MH370, which is in the ocean to the west of Australia.

The island is still in the Indian ocean, but is around 2,800 miles from where investigators have been searching for the downed plane.

However, according to Mr Tytelman, it is not unfeasible that this piece of debris could have been moved by the current across the ocean over the course of the year.

Despite the find, there was some scepticism amongst aviation sources that debris from an aircraft found in the western Indian Ocean could be part of MH370.

Satellite “pings” helped to establish that the Malaysia Airlines jet kept flying for hours after the last contact from the flight deck. The automatic signals have been minutely examined by an international forum of accident investigators, including experts from Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch. They concluded that the aircraft and the 239 people on board, will be found on the sea bed roughly 1,000 miles west of Perth in Western Australia.

A “priority search area,” about three times the size of Wales, was finely calculated for MH370. A multi-national search operation, led by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, is currently “sweeping” the ocean floor using sophisticated equipment capable of identifying larger pieces of debris at a depth of thousands of feet.

Investigators believe the Boeing is much more intact than other aircraft lost at sea. With AF447, the Air France jet that crashed between Rio and Paris, the first evidence of disaster took the form of lifejackets floating on the surface of the ocean.

Since no such evidence of MH370 has come to light in more than a year, many experts believe that the 777 was deliberately flown into the ocean in such a way as to minimise the break-up of the plane.

A relative of an MH370 passenger cries shortly after the plane's disappearance

Even if the calculations about the likely final resting place of MH370 are out by a significant margin, and the plane hit the Indian Ocean much further west than believed, the amount of fuel on board would leave it well short of the island of Reunion. The prospect that a large item of wreckage could be swept so far by ocean currents over the course of 16 months seems implausible, especially since no smaller, lighter pieces of debris have been detected.

The Malaysian Government has sent experts to Reunion to determine whether a piece of flight MH370 has been found, Reuters reported.

“I have sent a team to verify the wreckage ... we hope that it can identify (the wreckage) as soon as possible,” Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said during a visit to the United Nations in New York.

On 28 January this year, after months of fruitless searching, the Malaysian government formally announced that the crash was an accident, and presumed all passengers and crew on board to be dead.

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