Apparent airplane debris found off the coast of Reunion island, a French department in the western Indian Ocean, is being examined to see if it is connected to the 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a member of the French air force in Reunion said Wednesday.
The debris was found off the coast of St. Andre, a community on the island, according to Adjutant Christian Retournat.
Officials from Boeing, which built the 777 that was MH370, conducted an initial assessment of the debris using photographs and their findings suggest the debris is consistent in appearance with a Boeing 777’s flaperon, which is a piece of the plane’s wing, a source close to the investigation told CNN.
The source said there is a unique element to the Boeing 777’s flaperon that observers believe they are seeing in photos as well, though the source would not disclose what that detail is. The source stressed this is preliminary.
Earlier, Retournat said the debris appeared to be a wing flap and had been taken to the island, located about 380 nautical miles off the coast of Madagascar.
The Malaysian government has dispatched a team to Reunion Island to investigate the debris, Malaysian Minister of Transportation Liow Tiong Lai said in New York.
“We need to verify. We have wreckage found that needs to be further verified before we can further confirm if it belongs to MH370. So we have dispatched a team to investigate on these issues and we hope that we can identify it as soon as possible,” the minister said.
CNN analysts say there are indications that the airplane part could be from a Boeing 777, and if that’s the case, it’s likely from MH370.
Making the determination should be “very simple” because the serial numbers riveted to numerous parts of the plane can be linked to not only the plane’s model, but the exact aircraft, said CNN aviation analyst Les Abend, who flew 777s during his 30 years as a pilot.
This means crash investigators may be able to figure it out from photographs of the part — which could be an aileron, a flap or a flaperon — even before arriving on the island, he said.
There are at least three elements of the discovery that are consistent with MH370, said CNN safety analyst David Soucie. The first is that the part appears to have been torn off of the aircraft.
“This is from a sudden impact, it looks like to me,” Soucie said.
There also is a seal on the top of the part that “is consistent with what I would see on an inside flap on a triple 7,” he said, and the barnacles on the part are consistent with the “parasitic activity” that would take place from being under water so long.
However, the part appears to be coated in white paint, which would run counter to Soucie’s other observations in that the 777’s parts would be coated in zinc chromate, not paint. Soucie acknowledged, however, that the part could be coated in something from the ocean.
“If it is a part from a triple 7, we can be fairly confident it is from 370 because there just haven’t been that many triple 7 crashes and there haven’t been any in this area,” said CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo.
MH370 disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 8, 2014, bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard.
Authorities have said they still don’t know why it turned dramatically off course over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, or where exactly its errant journey finished.
An international team of experts used satellite data to calculate that the plane eventually went down in the southern Indian Ocean. Search teams have been combing a vast area of the seafloor in the southern Indian Ocean, hunting for traces of the passenger jet, about 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) from where the debris was found.
The Malaysian government eventually declared the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 an accident and all of its passengers and crew presumed dead.