Small part of a plane, but cer­tainly a sig­nif­i­cant find


It is a small part of the plane but con­fir­ma­tion that a 2-me­ter­long flap­eron, which sur­faced last week, be­longs to Malaysia Air­lines Flight MH370 is a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment, said ex­perts.

The dis­cov­ery of a part of the wing of the Boe­ing 777, which washed up on Re­union Is­land, con­firms the widely ac­cepted sce­nario that the flight, which van­ished on March 8 last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Bei­jing with 239 peo­ple on board, had plunged into the In­dian Ocean.

Fol­low­ing tests in France, Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak con­firmed early yesterday that the flap­eron came from the miss­ing air­craft.

The “crit­i­cal” find will shed some light on the tragedy, said Michael Daniel, a re­tired U.S. Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FAA) of­fi­cial.

“Fur­ther tests and in­ves­ti­ga­tions over the next few weeks should be able to de­ter­mine the cir­cum­stances un­der which the piece be­came de­tached from the air­craft. For ex­am­ple, was it at high im­pact? What was the force in­volved?” he said.

The an­swers could pro­vide some im­por­tant clues on the fi­nal mo­ments of MH370.

Ecol­o­gists will also an­a­lyze bar­na­cles or marine crus­taceans at­tached to the flap­eron’s sur­face to de­ter­mine the chem­i­cal and other con­di­tions of the wa­ter through which they trav­eled, in or­der to lo­cate their ori­gin.

The in­for­ma­tion would hope­fully nar­row the search zone for the main wreck­age and black boxes that must be found if in­ves­ti­ga­tors are to de­ter­mine what hap­pened to MH370, in­clud­ing whether or not the plane flew un­de­tected for about seven hours be­fore fi­nally crash­ing.

“The big ques­tion is whether the find will lead in­ves­ti­ga­tors to the main wreck­age ... and the fact is, there is no guar­an­tee it will,” said Jac­ques Astre, pres­i­dent of in­dus­try con­sul­tancy In­ter­na­tional Avi­a­tion Safety So­lu­tions and a for­mer FAA of­fi­cial.

Even if more de­bris washes up on the shores, some will go un- de­tected and “some of it will be con­sid­ered as garbage and thrown away ... Ev­i­dence may be lost as a re­sult,” he noted.

Re­tired U.S. air­line pi­lot John Cox, who runs his own con­sul­tancy, said: “This is not the key to solv­ing the events of MH370. It is a piece of in­for­ma­tion.

“No one can pre­dict when this mys­tery will be solved, though I re­main con­vinced it will be solved.”

Still, the flap­eron find is likely to give search teams that have been comb­ing the rough seas for months with­out find­ing any­thing re­newed hope and zeal.

Aus­tralia, which is lead­ing the search, has said, in the wake of the dis­cov­ery, that it is con­fi­dent the hunt is in the right place.

The chief com­mis­sioner of the Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bureau, Martin Dolan, told ABC ra­dio: “The find is con­sis­tent with all the work we’ve done, so we’re con­fi­dent that we’re look­ing in the right area and we’ll find the air­craft there.”

Satel­lite and other data point to the plane com­ing down in the south­ern In­dian Ocean and ships have been scour­ing more than 50,000 square kilo­me­ters of deep ocean floor for ev­i­dence, he said.

Drift mod­el­ing data has shown de­bris could have been car­ried by wind and cur­rents to Re­union Is­land, about 4,000 kilo­me­ters from the re­gion where MH370 is be­lieved to have gone down.

In an in­ter­view with The Straits Times last month, Ray­mond Ben­jamin, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ICAO), stressed that MH370 must be found.

“We don’t know what ex­actly hap­pened in the cock­pit so we don’t know if it was a se­cu­rity is­sue or a safety is­sue. We have never had a sit­u­a­tion where an air­craft flew for seven hours be­fore crash­ing,” he said then.

More than 17 months af­ter MH370 dis­ap­peared, the dis­cov­ery of the flap­eron is an im­por­tant first step to­wards solv­ing one of the great­est mys­ter­ies of mod­ern com­mer­cial avi­a­tion and giv­ing some clo­sure to griev­ing rel­a­tives.

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