NEWS

MH370 search: Too early to tell whether debris on Reunion Island is part of missing jet

07/29/2015 03:48 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 05:59 EDT
It's too early to tell whether debris found on Reunion Island Wednesday could be part of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared off the coast of Malaysia in March 2014, and whose mysterious fate has been the source of much speculation and consternation.

"People are getting ahead of themselves over this," said Eric Chesneau, an officer with the air transport police of the French Indian Ocean territory, in response to speculation on social media. "It is more than likely plane debris, [but] we don't know what exact part it may be."

Several websites were speculating Wednesday that debris that washed up on the French island, about 1,000 km east of Madagascar, was part of a wing of a Boeing 777 jet, the same kind of plane as MH370, but no one has officially confirmed even that detail.

Exactly what happened to MH370 has never been established, and no trace of the wreckage has been found despite millions of dollars spent searching for the plane.

Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 8, 2014, at 12:41 a.m. local time headed for Beijing. Less than a half hour into the flight, air-traffic control on the ground lost contact with the jet, and less than two hours into the flight, it disappeared from military radar, although it continued to send data to a satellite until 8:11 a.m. Malaysia time. 

The plane was carrying 227 passengers, most of whom were Chinese, and 12 crew.

When it disappeared from radar, it was heading west across the Strait of Malacca — the opposite direction from where it was supposed to be flying, leading experts to conclude that it veered from its intended flight path, turned around and flew back across the Malaysian peninsula toward the Indian Ocean.

Authorities initially focused the search for the plane on the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea but later shifted their attention much farther south to the remote southern Indian Ocean after the satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat released data that suggested that's where the plane went down.

The southern Indian Ocean search has been co-ordinated primarily by Australia, although Malaysia and China have also contributed funds and resources, and several other countries have lent expertise and equipment.

To date, the search has cost more than $100 million and extended across tens of thousands of square kilometres.

In January of this year, the disappearance of the jet was officially declared an accident and all people on board were presumed dead in order to facilitate compensation for the victims' families.

A comprehensive report into the disappearance found no significant anomalies in the flight, except that the battery of the locator beacon for the plane's data recorder had expired more than a year before the jet vanished.

That still does not explain what caused the plane to veer so off course in what has become aviation's biggest mystery that continues to confound experts and investigators alike. At the same time, the relatives of the dead have got no closure and many still believe that their loved ones may be alive amid a host of conspiracy theories including one that the plane was hijacked and landed somewhere safely.

The case of the missing jet has prompted many comparisons with Air France Flight 447, which crashed en route to Rio de Janiero in May 2009 with 228 people on board and wasn't found until two years later, but the key difference in that case was that searchers found some debris and the bodies of several victims of the crash days after the plane went down, helping narrow the search.

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