International investigators launched an air, land, and sea search near an island in the Indian Ocean on Thursday after discovering airplane debris that has become a “major lead” in the hunt for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Malaysia’s deputy transport minister on Thursday said it is “almost certain” that aircraft debris found off the coast of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion came from a Boeing 777 aircraft.
Boeing investigators examined photos of the fragment and believe it is from one of their 777s. It’s believed to be a piece of a flap from one of the wing sections. There is only one aircraft missing in the world right now – MH370. Local media also reported Thursday that the remains of a suitcase had also been found in the same area where the debris was recovered. Officials did not immediately comment on the reports.
The debris will be shipped by French authorities to Toulouse for examination, he said in a statement. A Malaysian team is en route to the southern French city, while a second team is traveling to Reunion, he said. Reunion is a French territory. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss on Thursday described the discovery as a “major lead” in the search for the Boeing 777-200ER. “This is obviously a very significant development,” Truss told reporters at a news conference. “It’s the first real evidence that there’s a possibility that part of the aircraft may have been found.”
Truss has overseen the search for the missing Boeing 777 1,000 miles west of Perth said it would take time to come to a conclusion. The number BB670 — which he said is not a serial or registration number but could possibly be a maintenance number — found on the debris may help with identification. Truss said a “piece of debris could’ve floated a long, long way in 16 months” — the period since the Malaysia Airlines jet vanished.
BEA, the French counterpart to the National Transportation Safety Board, said that it could not officially confirm yet that the fragment was from a Boeing 777. However, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said Thursday that the plane debris was “very likely” from a Boeing 777. “The location is consistent with the drift analysis provided to the Malaysian investigation team, which showed a route from the southern Indian Ocean to Africa,” Najib said in a statement.
Truss said the development could finally bring answers to relatives of those aboard the jetliner. “If the wreckage is identified, what that does is give some degree of closure to the families who are waiting for information,” he said. “If it can be established beyond doubt that the aircraft has gone into the water then that helps people to understand what happened.”
Australia is leading the underwater search for the remains of Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) east of Reunion. But Truss said that French and Malaysian authorities will be responsible for establishing whether the debris found off the island came from the missing jetliner. Australia has offered its help, he said, including asking marine experts to look at photos of the debris to determine whether barnacles on it are “consistent with something that was floating in the oceans for 16 months or more.” The flight vanished March 8, 2014, en route to Beijing. So far, no confirmed trace of it has been found, making it one of history’s biggest aviation mysteries and leaving relatives of passengers and crew members uncertain about the fate of their loved ones.