On August 5, 2015, Malaysian Prime Minster Najib Razak confirmed that a piece of debris found on the coast of the French Island La Réunion in the Indian Ocean is a piece of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The debris—a piece of wing called a flaperon—was found outside of the town of Saint Andre on the morning of July 29, 2015, and was transported to Balma, France, near Toulouse where a forensic investigation was conducted at an aeronautical testing facility under the authority of the French military.
A judge at the Balma facility directed the forensic examination, which was witnessed by Malaysian officials and assisted by U.S. officials and Boeing representatives, who were able to advise on the link between the wing component and MH370.
Missing since March 8, 2014, the search for the missing Boeing 777 has focused on the waters just off the southwestern coast of Australia. It’s believed that this fragment was caught in the strong ocean current formed by the Indian Ocean gyre, which turns counterclockwise roughly from the coast of Australia to the coast of Africa.
“As with any crash that happens in the ocean, the debris will quickly become waterlogged and sink. For the pieces that remain buoyant it can take months, if not years, for pieces to start washing up on shorelines, and that can occur hundreds or even thousands of miles from the original crash site. The Indian Ocean gyre is basically a big conveyor belt and other pieces could still be caught in that current. What this does, however, is confirm where the rest of the missing flight could be located,” said Motley Rice aviation attorney Mary Schiavo, also a CNN aviation analyst and former U.S. Inspector General for the Department of Transportation.
Images of the debris were originally published in the island’s Réunion 1ère, which stated that the fragment was found by a group of people picking up trash along the shoreline. The article did not offer any suggestions on the origins of the debris, but a blog article published hours later by former military pilot Xavier Tytleman suggested that the piece was incredibly similar to the flaperons on a Boeing 777 and questioned whether or not it might be the first remains of MH370.
The investigation into the location of the remaining wreckage will continue under the authority of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), with other nations participating. It’s also believed that the barnacles found on the debris could offer important clues as to the wing fragment’s movements over the past 17 months.
The Motley Rice aviation team represents families of the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, and continues to review all the facts at hand.