MH370: Malaysia sends experts to Maldives to examine debris

Aug 11, 2015

Hunt for missing jet shifts focus after unidentified pieces washed up

The focus of attention in the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 has shifted to the Maldives.

Malaysia announced today it is sending a team to examine debris washed up on the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said they would try to establish if the pieces were from an aircraft, says CNN.

He added: "At this stage, it is highly premature to speculate on whether this debris is in any way connected to MH370."

A piece of debris washed up on the French territory Reunion last month was claimed by Malaysia as a 'flaperon' from the aircraft, which went missing in March 2014. But French authorities say more tests are necessary to be sure.

Australian authorities have warned that while Reunion is a plausible end-point for debris, washed by currents from the place they believe the plane came down, the Maldives are far outside that zone.

The Daily Mail reported yesterday that at least some of the Maldives debris might come from a capsized barge. The captain, Abdullah Rasheed, told a local news site he believed some pieces were from his cargo.

His barge capsized on 10 February this year, with three out of five crew members lost. He said he could "almost certainly" say that some of the debris was from his cargo of three or four containers of wall panels.

The Mail says there are other pieces which the captain did not identify – including something which looks like it might plausibly be part of an aircraft wing, with the typical honeycomb internal structure.

The South China Morning Post, however, speculates the piece appears "very similar to … an unusual make of surfboard". Varial Surf Technology makes boards with an aluminium core but has not commented on the debris.

A minister in the office of the Maldives president, Mohamed Shareef, said officials were working closely with the Malaysian aviation authorities.

He said: "We are collecting any unidentified debris and storing them in a warehouse so the Malaysians can carry out tests and determine if it is from their plane or not. We ourselves are not doing any testing, but we have sent photographs."

The Mail recalls Maldives residents claimed to have seen a Boeing 777 flying south past the islands before circling back over the lower Bay of Bengal on the night MH370 disappeared.

Flight MH370: as France expands search, what happens next?

7 August

France is today preparing to conduct land, air and sea searches for more wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The move follows confirmation by the Malaysian government on Wednesday that wing debris washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion was part of the missing plane.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said investigators analysing the debris in France had "conclusively confirmed" that the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after veering off course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing with 239 passengers  and crew on board.

"I would like to assure all those affected by this tragedy that the government of Malaysia is committed to do everything within our means to find out the truth of what happened," he said.

Despite Razak's announcement, investigators have stopped short of publicly confirming the debris is from the plane, instead saying there were "very strong conjectures", The Guardian reports.

This has angered relatives of the victims who are demanding more certainty from authorities. The announcements were met with anger in China, where most of the victims were from, as relatives refused to accept the news.

"Please don't let them keep lying," shouted one man while protesting at the airline's Beijing headquarters. "I want them to reveal the truth immediately."

Another woman said she had not given up hope of finding her daughter. "I believe they are still alive – otherwise they would have found the bodies."

But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country is leading the deep-sea hunt for the wreckage, said the discovery was consistent with the search pattern teams have been using.

"It suggests that for the first time we may be a little bit closer to solving this baffling mystery," he told reporters.

Why is it taking so long for investigators to confirm if the wing is from MH370?

The investigation is being led by aviation authorities in France as the debris was discovered on French territory, but Malaysian and Australian officials are also involved. The wing arrived at a military-run facility near Toulouse last weekend, but the involvement of different countries and groups has "complicated and delayed the situation somewhat", says CNN.

How will they confirm its origin?

Jean-Paul Troadec, the former head of France's BEA agency, which investigates aviation accidents, said the type of paint used on the wing might provide vital clues. "Every airline paints their planes in a certain way … and if the paint used is used by Malaysia Airlines and other companies, there may be more certainty," he said.

Investigators will undertake tests to try to determine where the wing came from. Mary Schiavo, an aviation analyst and former inspector general of the US Department of Transportation, says they will be conducting "everything from X-rays to sonograms". They will then take apart the fragment in search of serial and part numbers to match to the missing plane.

If a serial number cannot be easily identified, the wing will be examined with an electron microscope "that can magnify up to 10,000 times", Pierre Bascary, former director of tests at France's General Directorate for Armaments, told the Daily Telegraph.

Bill Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, predicted analysts would also look for small fractures in the surface that could reveal the plane's angle of impact. An ultrasound could show "just how violent the separation was", he told ABC News.

There have also been suggestions that the barnacles growing on the wing could provide a clue about the water conditions under which they were formed and narrow down the search area considerably.

What happens next?

French authorities have announced they intend to set up a new search, combing the small Indian Ocean island for further traces of the missing plane.

The search will begin with an aerial observation by a military plane this morning, The Guardian reports, to be joined later by helicopters, boats and foot patrols across the French-administered island.

Although French investigators have declined to state definitively the flaperon discovered last week is from the Boeing 777 which went missing in March last year, the latest announcement suggests there is sufficiently strong conviction to launch a new search.

Malaysian authorities have been less circumspect, confirming the wing part belonged to the missing aircraft and claiming more debris had been discovered – a claim the French were quick to dismiss.

The discrepancy between these accounts has caused frustration among relatives of the flight's passengers, the BBC reports, exacerbating conspiracy theories and claims there has been a cover-up.

Even if confirmed by investigators, it is unlikely to solve the mystery behind the plane's disappearance and why it veered so dramatically off course. More than a year on from the tragedy, families of the victims are demanding more definitive answers.

But experts are divided on the significance of the discovery, which Malaysia called a "major breakthrough" in the investigation.

"This confirms the plane went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean – but we pretty much knew that," aviation consultant Gideon Ewers told Sky News. "It won't take us any further down the path of what happened and why."

However, Jakarta-based aviation consultant Gerry Soejatman said discovering roughly where the plane crashed was a "huge step" forward in the investigation. "This answers a lot of questions, actually," he said. "It eliminates other theories, conspiracy theories."

Meanwhile, the Australian-led search for the wreckage and the crucial black boxes continues. Authorities scouring 120,000 sq km of the Indian Ocean say they are still confident they're looking in the right place and will do so for as long as it takes to provide families with the answers they need.

Flight MH370: analysis of wing begins as experts meet in Franch

03 August

Malaysian and French aviation officials are meeting local magistrates and police in Paris to coordinate the investigation into the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, as analysis of the wing component found on Reunion island gets underway.

On Sunday, Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai confirmed that the flaperon was from a Boeing 777, making it increasingly likely that it is from the missing plane which vanished last year after veering off course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing with 239 people on board.

French investigators are expected to determine whether or not the fragment is from the plane by Wednesday, but Jean-Paul Troadec, former director of the Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) downplayed expectations. "We should not expect miracles from this analysis," he said.

Other experts believe that barnacles found on the debris could provide vital clues to help unravel the mystery behind the missing flight. The crustaceans could offer "valuable information" about the water conditions under which they were formed and could narrow the search area down to within tens of kilometres, Ryan Pearson, a PhD student at Australia's Griffith University told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities have appealed to Indian Ocean nations near Réunion island to be on the lookout for more debris. Over the weekend, a number of items were handed in to police on the island, including a piece of metal inscribed with Chinese characters. One item believed at first to be part of a plane door was found to be from a domestic ladder.

A spokesman in the town of St Andre, where the wing part was found, told the BBC that people are now "going to think any metallic object they find on the beach is from flight MH370". Another source close to the investigation said: "There is a sort of 'treasure hunt' mentality that is taking hold and people are calling us for everything."

Meanwhile, families of the victims continue their anxious wait for answers. "It has been hurting for so long," Nur Laila Ngah, the wife of steward Wan Swaid Wan Ismail, told The Guardian.  "We need the closure and all the evidence possible so that we can go ahead with our lives." 

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