Washington: Air safety investigators have a “high degree of confidence” that aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean is of a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
Air safety investigators — one of them a Boeing investigator —have identified the component as a “flaperon” from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, the U.S. official said.
A French official close to an investigation of the debris confirmed Wednesday that French law enforcement is on site to examine a piece of airplane wing found on the French island of La Reunion, in the western Indian Ocean. A French television network was airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris. U.S. investigators are examining a photo of the debris.
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The last primary radar contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 placed its position over the Andaman Sea about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northwest of the Malaysian city of Penang. The French island of La Reunion is about 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers) southwest of Penang, according to a Google map.
The U.S. and French officials spoke on condition that they not be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly.
At the United Nations, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage.
“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370,” he said.
The discovery is unlikely to alter the seabed search, said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who is heading up the search effort in a remote patch of ocean far off the west coast of Australia. If the find proved to be part of the missing aircraft, it would be consistent with the theory that the plane crashed within the 46,000 square mile (120,000 square kilometer) search area, 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) southwest of Australia, he said.
“It doesn’t rule out our current search area if this were associated with MH370,” Dolan told The Associated Press. “It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island.”
Dolan said search resources would be better spent continuing the seabed search with sonar and video for wreckage rather than reviving a surface search for debris if the find proved to be from Flight 370.
If the debris turns out to be from the missing aircraft, it will be the first confirmation that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after it vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while traveling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. A massive multinational search effort of the southern Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand turned up no trace of the plane.