LANE wreckage washed up on a tiny Indian Ocean island will be sent to France for investigation, as hopes mount the find could unlock the riddle of missing flight MH370.
Several experts are convinced the debris is a flaperon from the wing of a Boeing 777, which if proven means it almost certainly belongs to the Malaysia Airlines plane whose disappearance 16 months ago sparked one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
A suitcase has also washed ashore at the same location as the aircraft flaperon but as yet there is no confirmation the suitcase is linked to the earlier debris.
Johnny Begue, the man who found the suitcase, said it gave him shivers to think that the flotsam may belong to the missing passenger jet. He made the discovery while cleaning the beach and looking for a rock to crush spices.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says the suitcase was handed to police on Reunion and investigators have made arrangements to retrieve it.
“It may just be rubbish and there is no attached marine life to indicate that it’s been in the water for any great time, but it will be examined,” he told News Corp Australia in a statement.
The two-metre long piece of plane wreckage found yesterday will today be sent to Toulouse in south-western France, where France’s BEA crash investigation agency will verify whether or not it belonged to the missing passenger jet..
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the wreckage found on La Reunion was “very likely” from a Boeing 777 but it remained to be seen if it indeed came from MH370.
However, as expectations mount over the find, authorities are warning against jumping to conclusions.
“Whatever wreckage is found needs to be further verified before we can further confirm whether it belongs to MH370,” said Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai.
Meanwhile a French military helicopter slowly circled above the island where the debris washed up.
THE discovery yesterday is the strongest indication yet that the $180 million search for the plane is being conducted in the right place.
Oceanographers and other experts said the discovery was “absolutely consistent” with drift modelling based around MH370’s likely resting place in the southern Indian Ocean.
A local journalist tweeted a photograph of the latest discovery and French language website Linfo.re reported that a gardener found the bag at the same site where a two-metre (six-foot) long piece of plane wreckage was found earlier.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the wreckage is “very likely from a Boeing 777”.
“Initial reports suggest that the debris is very likely to be from a Boeing 777, but we need to verify whether it is from flight MH370,” Najib said in a statement on his Facebook page.
As families processed the news, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss called for a cautious approach until the debris could be identified.
Australia has committed $90 million to the search, a sum Malaysia has promised to match.
So far, $76 million has been spent by Australia alone and the government has refused to commit to more once the current search effort is complete.
Mr Truss yesterday described the discovery on Reunion Island as “interesting” and said Malaysian officials would lead the investigation.
Covered in shells and barnacles, the wing part was immediately assessed by experts as having been in the water for about a year.
Government officials on La Reunion said France’s civil aviation investigating authority BEA has been asked to co-ordinate an international probe into the origin of the debris.
A number printed on the debris could assist investigators who indicated it should only be a matter of days before they could confirm the flaperon’s origins.
US aviation safety consultant, John Cox, said it looked as if the wing had been broken rather than ripped off, consistent with the theory MH370 made a controlled ditch into the sea.
A Boeing spokesman said they were helping in any way they could.
“Our goal, along with the entire global aviation industry, continues to be not only to find the aeroplane, but also to determine what happened and why,” he said.
The Malaysia Airlines’ plane disappeared on March 8, 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board including six Australians.
After vanishing from radar screens, the aircraft is thought to have flown for up to seven hours before running out of fuel over the southern Indian Ocean, about 2000km west of Perth.
The French Island of Reunion is 4000km from the current search zone but drift modelling showed it was possible debris had travelled that far.
Imperial College oceanographer Erik van Sebille said debris from MH370 would now be so dispersed, it was possible nothing further would be found on Reunion Island.
“The other thing is, because the ocean is so chaotic, it will be very hard to track back where this particular piece was 16 months ago,” said Dr van Sebille.
For families who have spent 509 days awaiting news of their loved ones, word of the discovery triggered mixed reactions.
Melia Burrows, whose parents Rodney and Mary were on board MH370 said she and her siblings were hopeful the discovery was related to the plane but they were awaiting official confirmation.
Bob and Cathy Lawton had been travelling with the Burrows, and daughter Amanda Lawton said the wait for answers was almost too much to bear.
“My sisters and I, we’re just a little bit confused but hopeful that it is an item from MH370,” she said.
“I guess we don’t want to be disappointed with the news that it’s not related. It really mixes up the emotion.”
The Melbourne wife of Malaysia’s Chong Ling, Jennifer Chong, said she “selfishly” hoped the debris was not from MH370.
“My initial response was “this cannot be it”,” said Ms Chong.
“I have waited 509 days to see Chong Ling again, alive.”