Plane debris in Indian Ocean same type as MH370 - official

2015-07-30 06:19
A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de La Reunion. (Yannick Pitou, AFP)

A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de La Reunion. (Yannick Pitou, AFP)

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Washington - Air safety investigators have a "high degree of confidence" that aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean is of a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year, a US official said on Wednesday.

Air safety investigators - one of them a Boeing investigator -have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, the US official said.

A French official close to an investigation of the debris confirmed on Wednesday that French law enforcement is on site to examine a piece of airplane wing found on the French island of Reunion, in the western Indian Ocean. A French television network was airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris. US investigators are examining a photo of the debris.

The US and French officials spoke on condition that they not be named because they aren't authorised to speak publicly.

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 travelling 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.

Discovery

A discovery of debris on Reunion Island would also put to rest theories that the plane travelled north after it vanished from radar, and could help investigators figure out how the plane crashed. But whether it will help search crews pinpoint the rest of the wreckage is unclear, given the complexity of the currents in the southern Indian Ocean and the time that has elapsed since the plane disappeared.

The last primary radar contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 placed its position over the Andaman Sea about 370km northwest of the Malaysian city of Penang. The French island of Reunion is about 5 600km southwest of Penang, and about 4 200km west of the current search area.

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 120 000km2 search area, 1 800km southwest of Australia, he said.

"It doesn't rule out our current search area if this were associated with MH370," Dolan told The Associated Press. "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.

Confirmation that the debris came from Flight 370 would also finally disprove theories that the airliner disappeared somewhere in the northern hemisphere, Dolan said.

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