Fevered hunt for MH370 debris

A mangled piece of metal with Chinese characters inscribed on it has been found on La Reunion island. Yesterday, several pieces of debris, one of which was believed by locals to be from a plane door, sparked excitement. However, investigators quickly
A mangled piece of metal with Chinese characters inscribed on it has been found on La Reunion island. Yesterday, several pieces of debris, one of which was believed by locals to be from a plane door, sparked excitement. However, investigators quickly shot down hopes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Big disappointment as metal piece believed to be plane door turns out to be from a ladder

SAINT-ANDRE (France) • A fevered hunt for more wreckage from missing Flight MH370 on La Reunion island turned up no new clues yesterday, even as Malaysia called for the authorities in the Indian Ocean region to look out for debris washing up on their shores.

Locals on La Reunion island have been combing the shores since a piece of a Boeing 777 wing was found last Wednesday, handing over bits of what they believe to be wreckage to police.

Yesterday, several pieces of debris sparked excitement, one of which was believed by locals to be from a plane door. However, investigators quickly shot down hopes.

Malaysian director-general of civil aviation Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, who is in France for the analysis of the wing part, said one item "was actually from a domestic ladder. It is not a door".

And a source close to the investigation in Paris said that "no object or debris likely to come from a plane" had been placed into evidence yesterday.

The Malaysian Transport Minister confirmed in a statement that the wing part found last Wednesday had been "officially identified" as being from a Boeing 777 - making it virtually certain that it was from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The aircraft is the only Boeing 777 to ever be lost at sea.

On the island, police had also collected a mangled piece of metal inscribed with two Chinese characters and attached to what appears to be a leather-covered handle.

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 Mr 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.

The rush to find more debris is a sign of the desperation for answers 16 months after MH370 disappeared on March 8 last year, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

"There is a sort of 'treasure hunt' mentality that is taking hold and people are calling us for everything," said a local source close to the investigation.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the civil aviation authorities were reaching out to their counterparts in Indian Ocean territories to be on the lookout for further debris.

"This is to allow the experts to conduct more substantive analysis should there be more debris coming onto land, providing us with more clues to the missing aircraft."

He also confirmed in a statement that the wing part found last Wednesday on the French island had been "officially identified" as being from a Boeing 777 - making it virtually certain that it was from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The aircraft is the only Boeing 777 to ever be lost at sea. The flight's mysterious disappearance, which saw it vanish off radars as a key transponder appeared to have been shut off, has baffled aviation experts and grieving families and given rise to conspiracy theories. 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 it is plausible that ocean currents carried a piece of the wreckage as far as La Reunion.

However, the authorities have warned that even if the debris is confirmed to come from MH370, it is unlikely to completely clear up one of aviation's greatest puzzles.

The wing part, or flaperon, will be examined in a lab near the French city of Toulouse that specialises in plane crash investigations.

Four Malaysian officials, including the head of civil aviation, are in Paris for a meeting today with three French magistrates and an official from France's civil aviation investigating authority, BEA.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Fevered hunt for MH370 debris'. Print Edition | Subscribe