American investigator hands over possible MH370 debris to Australian agency, says pieces blackened by flames

US amateur investigator Blaine Gibson handed over unspecified debris suspected to be from MH370 to Australian officials on Sept 12, 2016.
US amateur investigator Blaine Gibson handed over unspecified debris suspected to be from MH370 to Australian officials on Sept 12, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (AFP) - An American amateur investigator handed possible debris from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to Australian officials on Monday (Sept 12) and said several pieces were blackened by flames, raising the prospect of a flash fire onboard.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is coordinating the search, said Mr Blaine Gibson had handed over unspecified debris on Monday. "We are seeking advice from the Malaysian authorities regarding how they would like to proceed," an ATSB spokesman told AFP.

Mr Gibson told local reporters the debris which had washed up in Madagascar included what appeared to be an internal panel and he had brought the pieces to Australia for forensic investigation.

"The top layer of paint has been singed, scorched black," he told Channel 7 of one piece. "It also shows some signs of melting... as you see when something is exposed to fire.

"It appears to be from the interior of the plane but not the main cabin, perhaps the cargo hold, perhaps the avionics bay."

Mr Gibson, a lawyer from Seattle, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the pieces could be a "real game changer" if they were found to belong to MH370.

"One of the theories is that there was a fire on the plane," he said, adding that there was as yet no evidence to support this theory.

The debris was handed over as eight relatives of those onboard the flight had a private visit with ATSB officials.

The relatives from China, Malaysia and Indonesia had earlier been shown around one of the search vessels in Western Australia.

Canberra has been leading the massive search for MH370 within the 120,000 sq km search zone set to be fully scoured by December.

But the underwater hunt has so far failed to find a single piece of debris from the plane, fuelling speculation that the crash site may be outside the current search zone.

The zone was defined under the "most likely" scenario that no one was at the controls as the plane ran out of fuel.

The first piece of debris found from MH370 - a 2m wing part known as a flaperon - washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion in July 2015.

Since then, a range of debris linked to the flight has been found along western Indian Ocean shorelines.