PARIS, France (UPDATED) – A piece of Boeing 777 wreckage that washed up on an Indian Ocean island arrived for analysis in France early Saturday, August 1 after Malaysian authorities said the part almost certainly came from missing flight MH370.
Paris’ Orly airport website confirmed the Air France flight transporting the piece of wreckage landed at 6:17 am (0417 GMT) from the French island of La Reunion.
A police escort will accompany the two-meter (six-and-a-half-foot) part on its journey by road to a defense ministry laboratory near the southwestern city of Toulouse.
If confirmed, the discovery would mark the first breakthrough in a case that has baffled aviation experts for 16 months.
The Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared on March 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
Malaysian and French experts will begin their analysis on Wednesday, August 5, along with an examination of parts of a suitcase discovered nearby, according to an informed source.
“I believe that we are moving closer to solving the mystery of MH370. This could be the convincing evidence that MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean,” Malaysia’s deputy transport minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
US aerospace giant Boeing said in a statement Friday, July 31 that it would send a technical team to France to study the plane debris at the request of civil aviation authorities.
Some warn that one small piece of plane debris is unlikely to completely clear up one of aviation’s greatest puzzles.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said while the part “could be a very important piece of evidence”, using reverse modeling to determine more precisely where the debris may have drifted from was “almost impossible”.
MH370 was one of only 3 Boeing 777s to have been involved in major incidents, along with the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine last year and the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco airport in 2013 that left 3 dead.
Photographs show the wing component bearing the part number “657BB”.
“From the part number, it is confirmed that it is from a Boeing 777 aircraft. This information is from MAS (Malaysia Airlines),” Aziz told AFP.
On La Reunion, where a clean-up crew discovered the wreckage and the suitcase, dozens of curious locals scoured the rocky shore for other possible debris.
Members of the same clean-up team on Friday discovered a detergent bottle with Indonesian markings and a bottle of Chinese-branded mineral water, which they took to police.
Most of the victims, 153, were Chinese and 7 were from Indonesia. The rest came from a dozen other countries including France.
On Monday, August 3, 3 French magistrates as well as a Malaysian legal representative and an official from France’s civil aviation investigating authority BEA will begin meeting behind closed doors in Paris.
The wing part is the first potential physical evidence to have been found in the more than 500 days since the accident, which has spawned wild conspiracy theories.
For the families of the victims, torn between wanting closure and hoping that their loved ones are somehow still alive, the discovery of the part has been yet another painful turn on an emotional rollercoaster.
Ghyslain Wattrelos, whose wife and two children were on the flight, said he was relieved to get the smallest bit of information about the missing plane.
“I hope to have answers very soon, because the wait is unbearable,” the Frenchman, currently in San Francisco, told AFP. (READ: Debris brings MH370 mystery ‘closer’ than ever to answers)
Australian Jeanette Maguire, whose sister Cathy was on board, said the discovery had triggered “a very bittersweet feeling for all of the family, it’s quite emotional”.
Search area unchanged
An Australian-led search has spent 16 months combing the southern Indian Ocean for the aircraft, which is known to have inexplicably veered off-course.
“This is the first positive sign that we have located part of that plane,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Saturday.
“Australia is still committed to assisting and doing whatever we can so that we can locate MH370 and provide answers for the families,” she added. (READ: Australia ‘confident’ it’s searching in right area for MH370)
Speculation on the cause of the plane’s disappearance has focused primarily on a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.
Scientists say there are several plausible scenarios in which ocean currents could have carried a piece of debris from the plane to the island. (READ: What we know: The riddle of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370)
Australian search authorities, who are leading the Indian Ocean hunt for the aircraft some 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from La Reunion, said they were confident the main debris field was in the current search area.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search for the passenger jet, said the discovery did not mean other parts would start washing up on La Reunion.
“Over the last 16 or 17 months, any floating debris would have dispersed quite markedly across the Indian Ocean,” he said. – Mahdia Benhamla, AFP/Rappler.com
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