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Still Waiting on the Verdict for Plane Wing Debris Found on Reunion Island — Is It Really MH370?

"We'll have to wait for next week."

In this July 29, 2015 file photo, French police officers inspect a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Confirmation that a wing flap found on an island in the western Indian Ocean is part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 would add a critical piece to the puzzle of the Boeing 777’s disappearance 17 months ago. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak delivered that confirmation Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 though French, U.S. and Australian investigators stopped just short of that, saying the part is from a 777 and acknowledging that Flight 370 is the only 777 missing. Examination of the part is continuing. (AP/Lucas Marie)\n

Though Malaysia's prime minister had said the debris from a plane wing that washed up on the Reunion Island, a French territory, was "conclusively" from the doomed Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing in March 2014, French experts have said they cannot officially confirm its origin yet.

CNN reported that a source close to the investigation said that the wing part was at least confirmed to be from a Boeing 777 and that MH370 "is the only 777 that is missing in that specific region."

"We still need to identify a number that is inside the flaperon," the source told CNN. "It is a Spanish subcontracting company that owns that part. This company would be able to identify this number, but the staff is on vacation. We'll have to wait for next week to get their guidance."

In this July 29, 2015 file photo, French police officers inspect a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Confirmation that a wing flap found on an island in the western Indian Ocean is part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 would add a critical piece to the puzzle of the Boeing 777�s disappearance 17 months ago. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak delivered that confirmation Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015 though French, U.S. and Australian investigators stopped just short of that, saying the part is from a 777 and acknowledging that Flight 370 is the only 777 missing. Examination of the part is continuing. (AP/Lucas Marie)

MH370 with 239 people on board went missing on March 8, 2014, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said earlier this month the wing fragment was in fact from the missing plane and the country's transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, explained that they respected the French wanting to continue with tests before offering their official results.

"From our first observation, the color tone and all maintenance records that we have, we know. Our records show that it’s the same as MH370," Liow said in early August.

French Deputy Prosecutor Serge Mackowiak declined, at the time, to confirm that the debris belonged to MH370, saying "very strong conjectures are to be confirmed by complementary analysis."

A personnel of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue checks the map during a search in the Andaman sea area around northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 17, 2014. (CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images).

If the wing part is not from MH370, where did it come from then? New York Magazine has more on that front:

How the part found its way to a beach on La Réunion is another issue. The Dépêche article contained a tantalizing hint. “According to a Toulouse aeronautics expert who requested anonymity,” the article stated, “the element of the wing would not have floated for several months at the water’s surface but would have drifted underwater a few meters deep.”

It’s not yet known why investigators reached this conclusion, but one clue might be that the flaperon found on La Réunion was encrusted on every edge with goose barnacles. These animals are a type of crustacean that attaches while young to a floating object and spends its entire adult life affixed to the same spot. Since they obviously can only survive underwater, their distribution around the object suggests that the entirety of it must have spent at least several months submerged.

[...]

So, how could a six-foot-long chunk of airplane remain suspended beneath the ocean surface for a long period of time? At this point, there aren’t any simple, common-sense answers; the range of possible explanations at this point runs from as-yet-unidentified natural processes to purposeful intervention by conspirators. The implausibility of it all is quite maddening — but, then again, when it comes to MH370, maddening and implausible are par for the course.

As for the ongoing deep-sea hunt by Australian authorities for evidence, new synthetic aperture sonar is being brought on, which some say should have happened earlier in the investigation.

With the standard side-scan sonar that has been used to scour half the search area so far, the sonar image of a seabed feature becomes less clear the farther it is away. With SAS, the sonar image remains sharp regardless of the feature's distance.

Martin Dolan, the bureau's chief commissioner, said negotiations are underway to hire SAS equipment to add to a fourth ship that would join the search during the approaching summer, with the aim of combing the entire 46,000-square mile search area in the Indian Ocean by the middle of next year.

A relative of a passenger on missing Malaysia Airlines MH370, is consoled by a journalist outside the Malaysia Airlines' office in Beijing on August 6, 2015. Chinese relatives of passengers aboard missing flight MH370 expressed anger and disbelief on August 6 after Malaysia's prime minister said wreckage found on a French Indian Ocean island was from the plane. (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Only two ships have continued the search through the harsh winter months using standard side-scan sonar.

"Our preference would be to get synthetic if we can, but we can make use of conventional side-scan," Dolan said.

"The advantage of synthetic is that you can get greater resolution, so it helps in those areas that require closer examination," he said.

Fugro Survey Pty. Ltd., the Dutch underwater survey company hired by Australia to search for the plane that vanished on March 8 last year with 239 people aboard, has defended its use of traditional side-scan sonar. Fugro search director Paul Kennedy has described SAS as developing technology with some questions about its reliability.

Critics fear that aircraft wreckage several hundred meters (yards) from traditional side-scan sonar transponders could be invisible. Fugro points to its success in March in finding a 19th century ship wreck more than 300 meters (900 feet) from a sonar transponder as proof that their equipment works.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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