UPDATE: Suitcase Found In Same Place Where Suspected MH370 Debris Washed Ashore
MH370 Live Updates: Wreckage Found Off Reunion Island Could Be Missing Malaysia Airlines Plane
Air safety investigators said on Wednesday evening they have a "high degree of confidence" that the debris found on the French island of Reunion, in the western Indian Ocean, belongs to a Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year. As US official said that a Boeing investigator had identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a 777 wing. MH370 is the only missing 777 in the world, making it even more likely the piece is from the lost plane.
French aviation expert, Xavier Tytelman, wrote in a blog that the images of the Boeing 777 wing bear an "incredible" similarity to the plane that disappeared last year. My Tytelman told The Telegraph: "I've been studying hundreds of photos and speaking to colleagues. And we all think it is likely that the wing is that of a Boeing 777 – the same plane as MH370. Police in Reunion examining the wreckage say that it looks like it's been in the water for around a year, which again would fit with MH370. We can't say for certainty, but we do think there is a chance that this is it."
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French law enforcement is on site to examine a piece of airplane wing, with French television airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris. The last radar contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 placed its position over the Andaman Sea about 230 miles northwest of the Malaysian city of Penang. The French island of Reunion is about 3,500 miles southwest of Penang.
At the United Nations, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage. "Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370," he said.
The discovery is unlikely to alter the seabed search, said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who is heading up the search effort in a remote patch of ocean far off the west coast of Australia. If the find proved to be part of the missing aircraft, it would be consistent with the theory that the plane crashed within the 46,000 square mile search area, 1,100 miles southwest of Australia, he said.
"It doesn't rule out our current search area if this were associated with MH370," Dolan told AP. "It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island." Dolan said search resources would be better spent continuing the seabed search with sonar and video for wreckage rather than reviving a surface search for debris if the find proved to be from Flight 370.
If the debris turns out to be from the missing aircraft, it will be the first confirmation that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after it vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while traveling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. A massive multinational search effort of the southern Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand turned up no trace of the plane.
Confirmation that the debris came from Flight 370 would also finally disprove theories that the airliner disappeared somewhere in the northern hemisphere, Dolan said. It was well understood after the aircraft disappeared that if there was any floating debris from the plane, Indian Ocean currents would eventually bring it to the east coast of Africa, said aviation safety expert John Goglia. But the debris is unlikely to provide much help in tracing the oceans currents back to the location of the main wreckage, he said. "It's going to be hard to say with any certainty where the source of this was," he said. "It just confirms that the airplane is in the water and hasn't been hijacked to some remote place and is waiting to be used for some other purpose."
Robin Beaman, a marine geologist at Australia's James Cook University, said there is precedence for large objects traveling vast distances across the Indian Ocean. Last year, a man lost his boat off the Western Australia coast after it overturned in rough seas. Eight months later, the boat turned up off the French island of Mayotte, west of Madagascar — 4,600 miles (7,400 kilometers) from where it disappeared.
"I don't think we should rule anything out, that's for sure," Beaman said. "The Indian Ocean is a big ocean, but the fact that a boat can go that distance and still be recoverable on the other side of the ocean... the possibilities are there." Beaman believes experts could analyse ocean currents to try and determine where the plane entered the water, though given the time that has elapsed and the vast distance the debris may have traveled, it would be very difficult.
If the part belongs to Flight 370, it could provide valuable clues to investigators trying to figure out what caused the aircraft to vanish in the first place, said Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The nature of the damage to the debris could help indicate whether the plane broke up in the air or when it hit the water, and how violently it did so, he said. The barnacles attached to the part could also help marine biologists determine roughly how long it has been in the water, he said.
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