Authorities strongly suspect that a wing section discovered on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean on July 29 was the first evidence to emerge from the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Boeing 777-200 disappeared from radar 16 months earlier, on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
By week’s end, authorities in Malaysia and Australia, which has spearheaded the international search effort, were confident that the roughly nine-foot-long wing section, a trailing-edge flaperon that helps to control aircraft roll and lift, belonged to a Boeing 777. “The flaperon is similar to that on a Boeing 777 aircraft. It’s almost certain,” said Malaysian deputy transport minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, according to The Star news site of Malaysia.
Speculation remained over whether a part number reportedly stamped on the wing section proved that it came from the MH370 aircraft. In addition, a tattered suitcase also washed ashore at Réunion, raising the possibility that it may have belonged to one of the 239 people on board the missing airliner. Authorities shipped both pieces to France, as Réunion is a French territory. Plans called for it to be examined at an aeronautical laboratory in Toulouse.
Located east of Madagascar, Réunion lies thousands of miles west of the current search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Australia. But oceanographers quoted in media reports said the debris could have been carried that far by ocean currents. If the wing section is from MH370, it would support the contention, based on radar and satellite data, that MH370 “turned back” from its flight path over the South China Sea and crossed the Malaysian peninsula on a westerly course. The loss of the aircraft led the International Aviation Safety Organization to require that airlines track their aircraft at regular intervals using available technology.
Malaysia has officially declared the disappearance of MH370 an accident and leads the investigation of its cause. It is assisted by manufacturer Boeing, France’s BEA aviation accident investigation authority, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.