AUTHORITIES have confirmed a wing part found on an Indian Ocean island was from missing airliner MH370. Now aviation experts say it proves the aircraft was in a controlled crash.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed in a televised statement early this morning that the plane debris found on Reunion was part of the missing Boeing 777.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts has conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris … is indeed MH370,” Prime Minister Razak told reporters.
The announcement has spurred a series of aviation experts to speak out about the implications of the find.
One Australian expert has gone so far as to say the condition of the ‘flaperon’, a control element of the missing Boeing 777’s wing, proves the aircraft was purposely put down on the ocean’s surface.
Australia will continue search
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia will continue to search for MH370, as “we owe it to the families of the people lost on the plane to try and solve this mystery.”
Speaking to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, Mr Abbott added that “we also owe it to the travelling public who want to feel safe when they travel abroad.”
Mr Abbott said the flaperon indicated the plane went down in the Indian Ocean.
“This is consistent with our search pattern to date,” he said.
“And let’s hope we can turn something up.”
In 2013-14 Australia committed $90 million to the search for MH370, including $60 million to support the underwater search activities.
Last week a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss confirmed to News Corp Australia more than $76 million had been spent on the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane.
Evidence a ‘huge step’
Analysts are saying a close look at the wing part could indicate what kind of stress the plane was under as it made impact. But it won’t fully solve the mystery of why the plane disappeared, nor will it help pinpoint where the plane crashed.
Australian aviation expert Neil Hansford said the flaperon snapping off gave pointers on how the jet entered the water.
“What it does show is that the aircraft has gone into the water in a controlled-type crash and as the engines have hit the water, they’ve sheared off and this part is straight behind one of the engines,” he told AFP.
“There should be at least one other flaperon from the other wing (floating around).”
Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based aviation consultant, said proof the flaperon came from MH370 was a “huge step”.
“People want all the answers, but look, let’s be real. We must be glad that we found something at all. Now we know roughly where it might have crashed,” he said.
“This answers a lot of questions actually. It eliminates other theories, conspiracy theories. If the black box is found later on, it is likely we could get more answers.”
Aviation expert Geoff Thomas told Seven’s Sunrise show this morning: “They will trying to see if there’s any fragment of evidence on this piece of wing that might give them a clue as to what happened to MH370. It won’t tell them where it is. It might tell that what happened.
“What this does is that it gives us real confidence that we’re looking in the right area because the University of Western Australia over 12 months ago predicted that debris would turn up in the Reunion Islands, Madagascar, east Africa, also the south coast of Australia, Tasmania as well.”
But Mr Thomas remained cautious about what the wreckage reveals: “I think we really have to wait for French prosecutors to give us a detailed analysis of what they find before we can draw too many conclusions…”
‘Confident’ search is in right place
AUSTRALIAN authorities say they are confident the search for MH370 is being carried out in the right area after Malaysia confirmed this morning part of a wing is from the missing flight.
“We now have physical evidence that, as I announced on 24th March last year, flight MH370 tragically ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” Malaysia’s Prime Minister said in an announcement.
“The burden and uncertainty faced by the families during this time has been unspeakable. It is my hope that this confirmation, however tragic and painful, will at least bring certainty to the families and loved ones of the 239 people onboard MH370. They have our deepest sympathy and prayers.”
The head of Australia’s air crash investigation team says the overnight confirmation by Malaysia of the flight’s flaperon goes some way to providing certainty in the search for the aircraft.
“We will see what the flaperon reveals about the last state of the flight,” Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, told ABC radio early this morning.
“We are confident that we are looking in the right area and we’ll find the aircraft there.”
The Boeing 777 jetliner disappeared 515 days ago on March 8 last year while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. It is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, but the reason remains one of aviation’s biggest mysteries.
Australia has been leading the hunt for the plane, with satellite and other data point to it coming down in the southern Indian Ocean. Ships have been scouring more than 50,000 square kilometres of deep ocean floor for evidence.
Authorities plan to search a total of 120,000 square kilometres. No evidence had been found until the wing part washed up on the French territory of La Reunion – thousands of kilometres from the site near Australia where the plane is believed to have gone down.
French investigators say a piece of a suitcase recovered near where the wing component was found was also being examined.
“The only aim here is to get to the truth,” French deputy prosecutor Serge Mackowiak said at the press conference overnight. “I am not in a position tonight to say when exactly the results of this exam will be available.”
The wing part was examined in the presence of French, Malaysian, Chinese and American representatives at a military laboratory in the southern city of Toulouse after it was discovered last week.
French prosecutor Serge Mackowiak was a little less definitive in his language as he confirmed that the wing fragment was from a Boeing 777 — the same make and model as the missing Malaysian airliner.
He said the results of initial tests showed there were “very strong indications” the flaperon was from flight MH370.
He said confirmation would come after further tests on the fragment, which would begin tomorrow.
Malaysia Airlines confirmed the news in a statement.
“Family members of passengers and crew have already been informed and we extend our deepest sympathies to those affected,” the airline said.
The airline hailed the news as a “major breakthrough”.
“We expect and hope that there would be more objects to be found which would be able to help resolve this mystery,” the statement read.
The father of an Australian on board MH370 says the family is back to square one with the confirmed discovery of a part from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
George Burrows, the father of Rodney Burrows, says he hopes to get more answers after the Malaysian government confirmed the wing part found on Reunion Island was from the flight.
“We were getting over things … and then this happens and (we are) back to square one,” Mr Burrows told ABC radio this morning.
Other families said the confirmation was not enough to lay the matter to rest, as they reiterated demands to know why the plane went off course, flying for hours after its communications and tracking systems were shut down, in what remains one of the biggest mysteries in the history of aviation.
“Now I want to know where the main body of the plane is so that we can take out the passengers and get the black box so we can know what happened. Only that, for us, will be full closure,” said Jacquita Gonzales, wife of MH370 chief steward Patrick Gomes.
The Malaysian premier gave no indication that the analysis of the debris yielded any clues into the cause of the disappearance.
Many relatives accuse his government and the airline of a bungled response to the disaster, possible cover-up, and insensitive treatment of families, charges that are vehemently denied.
Search to be expanded
Johny Begue, who found the flaperon last Wednesday, said his prayers had been answered by the confirmation.
“I have been thinking only of the families and what they are going through,” he told News Corp.
“I hope now they can find some peace.”
Mr Begue said he would now build a memorial garden to the 239 victims and would welcome them to Reunion if they wished to pay tribute.
Authorities in Reunion Island have been awaiting confirmation before beginning any official search, but a source close to the local government said ships from the French Navy base on the north west coast were expected to be mobilised.
“Reunion has the capacity to do a lot more than it has been doing to find debris. The issue has been that France is controlling everything and so nothing has been able to happen here until they give their authorisation,” the source said.
Tales debris can tell
Speaking before the confirmation, Jean-Paul Troadec, former chief of France’s BEA agency that probes air accidents, said the analysis focused on two issues – whether the flaperon belongs to MH370 and whether it can shed light on the plane’s final moments.
He said the paint on the piece was one key element of the probe.
“Every airline paints their planes in a certain way,” he said. “If the paint used is used by Malaysia Airlines … there may be more certainty.”
Xavier Tytelman, an expert on aviation security, told RTL radio the wing part was already widely believed to be part of MH370, and experts had been looking for “legal evidence”.
But crucially, the debris could also yield information on the final moments of the plane.
Mr Troadec said experts would examine the way the part detached itself from the wing.
“Was it in a violent impact with the sea or not?” he said. “This piece looks like it is in good condition, it doesn’t look like the part of a plane that fell vertically in the water at 900 kilometres an hour.”
He added that experts may also look for traces of an explosion or fire.
Scientists have pointed to the barnacles attached to the flaperon, saying these could give an idea of how long the piece has been in the water, and perhaps where it has been.
“If it has cold-water barnacles on it that might tell them it went down further south than they think. Or if it’s got only tropical barnacles, that might tell them it went down further north,” said Shane Ahyong, a crustacean specialist from the Australian Museum.
Australian investigators speak
The news comes as the Australian team heading the southern Indian Ocean sweep for MH370 said the wing part washed onto Reunion Island is consistent with its search zone.
There has been conjecture the $110 million search for the missing airliner was focused on the wrong area.
But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has released new ocean drift modelling by the CSIRO which “shows that material from the current search area could have been carried to La Reunion, as well as other locations, as part of a progressive dispersal of floating debris through the action of ocean currents and wind”.
In the meantime, the underwater search for MH370 will be halted for nearly a week, as the two ships left on the job swap places.
When the search resumes next Wednesday, August 12, it is expected to continue in the same area despite speculation of a move further north.
The ATSB said in a statement: “A great deal of additional material has been handed over to the police on La Réunion. While this is being examined, so far none of it appears to have come from an aircraft.
“The drift modelling indicates that if there is any more floating debris from MH370, it could be anywhere in hundreds of thousands of square kilometres in the Indian Ocean.
“Notwithstanding, we encourage people to report any item they find to the relevant local authorities.”
Australian experts say plane parts ‘still afloat’
Experts say there are probably other pieces of the aircraft that floated off rather than sinking to the bottom of the ocean, but finding them remains the hard part.
John Page, an aircraft design expert at the University of New South Wales, said the discovery of the fragment last week on Reunion Island leads him to conclude the missing Boeing 777 broke up, most likely when it hit the water nearly 17 months ago.
He said that while the main body of the plane is likely to have sunk, he thinks other small, lightweight parts attached to the wings and tail may have floated free and could still be afloat – pieces like the flaps, elevators, ailerons and rudders.
“I’m certain other bits floated,” he said.
“But whether they’ve washed up anywhere is another question. The chances of hitting an island are pretty low.”
He said there’s plenty of trash in the ocean, and even if somebody sailing past spotted something in the water, he or she may have no clue it was from the plane.
Geoff Dell, an air safety investigation expert and associate professor at Australia’s Central Queensland University, said he, too, would expect the parts most likely to break free and float would be the flight-control surfaces. Many are attached to the plane only with hinges.
He said the amount of floating debris would be determined by the way the plane hit the water, which remains unknown. He said if it hit in an uncontrolled manner and at a high speed, the plane would likely break up more, allowing more debris to float. A more controlled landing, on the other hand, could result in more of the plane remaining intact and sinking, he said.
Dell said some parts of the plane that might initially float, such as a seat that broke free from the fuselage, could become degraded and saturated over time and eventually sink.
Michael Smart, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Queensland, said there was some reason for hope in the search.
“If one piece turns up, perhaps there’s a likelihood that others will as well,” he said. “It’s strange to think you’d find one part that floated and nothing else.”
‘Plane window’ found on Reunion Island
THE Reunion resident who found the “plane door” last Sunday — which turned out to be a ladder — has now discovered a plastic component appearing to resemble a plane part on a beach on the island’s capital St Denis.
Police are investigating the plastic moulding which witnesses are speculating resembles a plane window.
Since last week’s discovery, locals have been gripped by what’s been labelled “rubbish fever” over what is being recovered from the beach.
But since the plastic moulding was handed to police on Tuesday, speculation has been rife on talkback station Freedom Radio about the object, with callers all afternoon debating whether it was from a plane or the side of a sewing machine.