Investigators hopeful wing flap will shed light on mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Under a microscope and expert eyes, the wing fragment that washed up on the beach of this volcanic island could yield clues not just to its path through the Indian Ocean, but also to what happened to the airplane it belonged to.

SAINT-ANDRE, Reunion — Under a microscope and expert eyes, the wing fragment that washed up on the beach of this volcanic island could yield clues not just to its path through the Indian Ocean, but also to what happened to the airplane it belonged to.

Analysts at the French aviation laboratory where the scrap was headed Friday can glean details from metal stress to see what caused the flap to break off, spot explosive or other chemical traces, and study the sea life that made its home on the wing to pinpoint where it came from.

French authorities have imposed extraordinary secrecy over the 2-meter (6-foot) long piece of wing, putting it under police protection in the hours before it left the island of Reunion. If the fragment is indeed part of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it means the wreckage may have drifted thousands of kilometres (miles) across the Indian Ocean to this French island off the east coast of Africa.

Wrapped and loaded as cargo, it was headed to a military aviation laboratory near the city of Toulouse, Europe’s aviation hub.

“With a microscope, that can learn details from the torn metal,” said Xavier Tytelman, a French aviation safety expert. “You can tell whether a crash was more horizontal or vertical … You can extrapolate a lot.”

John Cox, president and CEO of Safety Operating Systems and a former accident investigator, said minute characteristics of the metal could indicate attitude and vertical speed of the aircraft when it impacted.

“It won’t tell you how the plane crashed, but it will be a step in that direction,” Cox said.

Barnacles encrusting the wing’s edges would be studied for clues to plot the wing’s journey through the Indian Ocean, but Tytelman said there could be other microscopic life clinging to the metal or bottled up inside that could further indicate where the wing travelled.

“It’s been 16 months from the crash and everything fits together,” said oceanographer Arnold Gordon of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “So I think the probability that it’s from 370 is pretty high.”

The currents from the Indian Ocean flow in a counter-clockwise way that would take a crash from west of Australia to Reunion Island, Gordon said. The amount of barnacles on the debris is consistent with other debris that he’s seen in the ocean for more than a year. And it’s the right type of plane.

Pictures of the “flaperon” show that it is missing its drive arm, which directed up-down movement — but there appears to be relatively mild damage at the location where the drive arm tore away, said William Waldock, a former U.S. Coast Guard officer and a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, who teaches aircraft search and rescue.

“One of the things I guess is a little surprising is how intact the flaperon is,” he said. “It argues that it wasn’t a very violent impact, which goes along with some of theories that it just ran out of gas and glided down.”

The French aviation experts, including a legal expert from the field, will start their inquiry on Wednesday, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. On Monday, an investigating judge will meet with Malaysian authorities and representatives of the French aviation investigative agency, known as the BEA, according to the statement late Friday.

The statement said a shred of suitcase found near the wing fragment would also undergo forensic testing at a Paris-area government lab, and searchers continued Friday to scour the Reunion coastline for other possible debris, including the man from the beach maintenance crew who found the wing fragment.

Officials hope to have at least some answers soon, keenly aware that families of those on board Flight 370 are desperately awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones.

“The most important part of this whole exercise at the moment is to give some kind of closure to the families,” said Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss, whose country is leading the search for the plane in a desolate stretch of ocean off Australia’s west coast.

Even if the piece is confirmed to be the first confirmed wreckage from Flight 370, there’s no guarantee that investigators can find the plane’s vital black box recorders or other debris. A multinational search effort has come up empty.

Air safety investigators, including one from Boeing, have identified the component as a flaperon from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. The official wasn’t authorized to be publicly named.

Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only missing 777.

Scanning the beach’s distinctive black volcanic sand and stones on Friday, searcher Philippe Sidam picked up a plastic bottle for laundry detergent. “This is from Jakarta, Indonesia,” he said, pointing to the writing on the bottle. “This shows how the ocean’s currents bring material all the way from Indonesia and beyond. That explains how the debris from the Malaysian plane could have reached here.”

Reunion environmental worker Johnny Begue told The Associated Press that he stumbled across the plane part on Wednesday morning while collecting stones to grind spices.

“I knew immediately it was part of an aircraft, but I didn’t realize how important it was, that it could help to solve the mystery of what happened to the Malaysian jet,” Begue told the AP.

Australian officials expressed skepticism that the suitcase fragment was associated with the wing part. Truss, the transport minister, noted that there did not appear to be any marine life attached to the suitcase, indicating it probably hadn’t been in the water for long. But he described the wing part as a major lead.

Investigators have found what may be a maintenance number on the wing piece, which may help investigators figure out what plane it belongs to, Truss said.

Truss expects French investigators will also try to determine how the part separated from the rest of the aircraft, and whether it shows evidence of fire or other damage, which might explain how the plane crashed.

Ocean modeling predicted that currents would eventually carry any floating wreckage to the African coast from its suspected crash site.

Just Posted

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Red Deer Emergency Services responded to an explosion at a duplex on Rupert Crescent Saturday morning. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters respond to explosion in Red Deer early Saturday morning

There was an explosion at a Red Deer duplex early Saturday morning.… Continue reading

Terry Betts, of Kananaskis, looks at the vehicle he was hoping to sell during the Quick Times Red Deer Swap Meet in the Westerner Park parking lot Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Quick Times Red Deer Swap Meet held outdoors

A big automotive swap meet was held outdoors this year in Red… Continue reading

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is set to re-open on July 2. (File Photo)
Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum to reopen Monday

The Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum will reopen for visitors… Continue reading

Huzaifa (left), Saif (middle) and Zoya (right) were among the 60 or so Red Deerians who participated in a vigil for the victims of a recent terrorist attack that killed four people in London Ont. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Red Deer vigil honours victims of London, Ont. terrorist attack

About 60 people gathered at the corner of 49 Ave. and 50… Continue reading

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Syringes are readied at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, Friday, April 30, 2021 in Montreal. Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for Canada to donate some of its doses to other countries or international aid organizations and in at least three cases, for the doses to be resold.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada’s vaccine contracts allow for doses to be donated, in some cases resold

OTTAWA — Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for… Continue reading

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, responds to the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Vancouver, on Monday June 3, 2019. As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Two sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

VANCOUVER — As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after… Continue reading

A woman sits and weeps at the scene of Sunday's hate-motivated vehicle attack in London, Ont. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Four members of a family in London, Ont., are set to be buried today. The public has been invited to help celebrate the lives of Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins
Funeral to be held today for London family killed in attack

LONDON, Ont. — Four members of a Muslim family killed in what… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden listen to United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliver opening remarks at a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, United Kingdom Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to discuss foreign policy with G7 leaders at second day of summit meeting

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL, ENGLAND — Foreign policy is on the agenda for… Continue reading

Multivitamins are shown on the packaging line at the Pfizer plant in Montreal, Thursday, July 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canadian drug companies want new pricing regs delayed again until after pandemic

OTTAWA — Almost three dozen Canadian pharmaceutical companies made a direct appeal… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — The massive $70 million dollar Lotto Max jackpot remained unclaimed… Continue reading

Most Read