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PARIS, France (UPDATED) – Malaysian aviation experts met French officials Monday, August 3, to coordinate 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 met with a French judge, aviation experts, police charged with the probe and representatives of the embassies of Australia and China – the country that lost the most passengers when the Malaysia Airlines plane inexplicably disappeared from radars last year with 239 people on board.
France is leading the current phase of the investigation after a 2-meter-long flaperon, already confirmed to be part of a Boeing 777, surfaced last week on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.
Technical experts, including from US aerospace giant Boeing, will begin from Wednesday, August 5, 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.
“Malaysia and France share the concern and anxiety of all the next-of–kin in determining the origin of the flaperon in hope of ending the 16-month painful wait for determinative news,” Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said in a statement after the meeting.
The mysterious disappearance of MH370 in March 2014 sparked a colossal hunt that had proved fruitless until the discovery of the flaperon raised fresh hopes.
Malaysia quickly appealed to islands near La Reunion to hunt for clues that may wash up on their shores, and nearby Mauritius responded it would do all it can to search for more debris.
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, whose passengers have been declared presumed dead.
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 aviation investigating 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 southwest of Australia,” Herbig said.
‘We need the closure’
Meanwhile, more than 9,000 kilometers (5,500 miles) away, locals on La Reunion were scouring the beaches for more debris.
On Sunday, August 2, 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, La 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, spokesman 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.
Scientists say it is plausible that ocean currents carried a piece of the wreckage as far as La Reunion.
But Roland Triadec, a local oceanographer, said La 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. – Marianne Barriaux with Sonia Wolf in Saint André, AFP / Rappler.com