MH370: Barnacles may hold the clue

2015-08-03 21:17


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Paris - Malaysian aviation experts met French officials on Monday to co-ordinate the investigation into missing flight MH370, days after the discovery of a washed-up plane part offered fresh hopes of solving the mystery.

The Malaysian team arrived at the Palais de Justice in Paris shortly before 14:00 (12:00 GMT) to meet with a French judge, a group of experts and police charged with the investigation.

The meeting broke out after two hours and the Malaysian delegation left without comment to waiting reporters.

They were due to release a statement after the meeting.

France is leading the current phase of the investigation after a two-metre-long flaperon, already confirmed to be part of a Boeing 777, surfaced last week on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

Technical experts, including from US aerospace giant Boeing, will begin from Wednesday examining the wing component, which is likely to have come from the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight as no other such plane is known to have crashed in the area.

Mauritius said it would do all it can to search for more debris after Malaysia appealed to islands near Reunion to hunt for clues.

In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless.

In January, Malaysian authorities declared all 239 people on board MH370 presumed dead.

The wing part will undergo physical and chemical analysis in the southern French city of Toulouse in a bid to prove beyond doubt that the flaperon once belonged to MH370.

It will be examined with an electron microscope "that can magnify up to 10 000 times" to try to understand how it was damaged, said Pierre Bascary, former director of tests at France's General Directorate for Armaments.

However, experts have warned grieving families not to expect startling revelations from a single part. "We shouldn't expect miracles from this analysis," said Jean-Paul Troadec, former head of France's BEA civil flight authority.

In order to provide clues on what happened to the aircraft, "the part would need to be at the centre of the accident and the chances are fairly small", he noted.

Geology expert Hans-Georg Herbig said that the shells encrusted on the flaperon could provide vital clues.

If the barnacles are found to be from the Lepas family, "we can then say with certainty that the accident took place in cold maritime areas to the south-west of Australia", Herbig said.

'We need the closure'

Meanwhile, more than 9 000km away, locals on Reunion were scouring the beaches for more debris.

On Sunday, there was a frenzy of speculation over what locals believed to be a plane door, but which authorities quickly identified as part of a domestic ladder.

Also on Sunday, Reunion police collected a mangled piece of metal with Chinese characters and attached to what appeared to be a leather-covered handle, triggering more questions.

However, Chinese internet users suggested it may be a kettle.

"People are more vigilant. They are going to think any metallic object they find on the beach is from flight MH370, but there are objects all along the coast, the ocean continually throws them up," said Jean-Yves Sambimanan, spokesperson for the town of Saint-Andre where the wing debris was found.

He said islanders were also dumbfounded that after cursory helicopter flights the day after the wing part was found, no official search of the coastline is under way.

"If it comes from a plane it would be a pity if I didn't take it" to police, said Luc Igounet, 62, who found the metal bar that turned out to be from a ladder.

Scientists say it is plausible that ocean currents carried a piece of the wreckage as far as Reunion.

But Roland Triadec, a local oceanographer, said Reunion represented only "a pinhead" in the Indian Ocean and the likelihood of other debris washing up there was low.

For victims' families, the false alarms have reopened wounds as they seek closure from their personal tragedies.

"It has been hurting for so long. We need the closure and all the evidence possible so that we can go ahead with our lives," said Nur Laila Ngah, the wife of the flight's chief steward, Wan Swaid Wan Ismail.

Read more on:    malasia airlines  |  france  |  malaysia  |  malaysia airlines flight mh370
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