Malaysia announced Thursday that other debris, including a window and some aluminum foil, has been recovered on a French island that could be from the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that mysteriously disappeared from the sky 16 months ago.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said he could not confirm the debris belonged to Flight MH370, only that “it’s plane debris,” according to the Associated Press reporting from Kuala Lumpur. Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board.
Liow told reporters in the Malaysian capital that “there are many items collected” from the Indian Ocean island where a wing part was found last week.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Wednesday that the wing part was from the doomed jetliner. Malaysia Airlines then issued a statement calling the confirmation “a major breakthrough” in the search for the plane.
Liow said Thurday that the new debris has been sent “to the French authorities for verification.”
He said Malaysia has also asked authorities in neighboring areas including Mauritius and Madagascar to help comb their beaches for possible debris to widen the search.
China urged Malaysia to urgently push forward with the investigation.
“We demand the Malaysian side carry out relevant promises, continue their investigation into the cause of the plane crash, go all-out to handle the issues arising from the incident and earnestly safeguard the legal rights and interests of the families of the passengers,” Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said in a statement.
The wing piece, known as a flaperon, was being examined in a French laboratory, and authorities in Paris were more cautious Wednesday in their confirmation that it came from a Boeing 777.
There were “very strong indications” that the piece of the wing was from Flight 370,” French prosecutor Serge Mackowiak said at a Paris news conference.
He also said details still need to be confirmed “by further analysis that will start [Thursday] at the laboratory.”
Confirmation that the wing fragment came from the missing aircraft establishes that Flight 370 crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean, laying to rest conspiracy theories that it had been diverted to a desert island by hijackers or spirited off to a foreign country for use as a political bargaining chip.
It does not, however, provide much help to those who are searching for the rest of the airplane and the remains of the 239 people who were on board.
Nancy J. Smyth, dean of the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo, called the confirmation important to the families but added, “For the families, in an ideal world, it would not be finding a wing fragment, but it would be finding bodies.
“So much of our grieving process involves physicality — seeing a body in a coffin,” she said. “Without that, it is very hard to start the grieving process.”
The latest news, in fact, brought little relief to the families of the Chinese who vanished with the aircraft in March 2014.
Many are not convinced by the current evidence and want authorities to do more to find out what happened to the flight.
“I don’t understand why Najib, the prime minister of Malaysia, once again rushed into making announcement when the French side used the word ‘ highly possible ?’” said Steven Wang, whose mother was on the plane.
“It as if they want to end this as soon as possible,” he said.
Flanked by police officers and the press, more than a dozen family members gathered outside Malaysia Airlines’ Beijing office Thursday, some waving placards that read “Malaysia hides the truth, Malaysia delays the search.”
Among them were several families who still cling to the notion that the plane did not crash, but was hijacked.
Zhang Yongli, who attended gathering, said she could not accept the news. “It is impossible, it is a conspiracy,” she said.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the discovery of the wing part has reopened wounds in the mystery.
Kerry, in Malaysia for meetings with Southeast Asian counterparts, said the U.S. hopes that the debris that was discovered — if it is found to be conclusively from the aircraft — will help to bring some sense of closure, the Associated Press reported.
He says perhaps even more reliable information that can be tracked from the sea currents may narrow the area of search, according to the AP.
The wing piece was found last week by a crew cleaning debris from a rocky, little-used beach on Reunion Island, a French possession that is closer to Africa than the search area off Australia.
Flight 370 went radically off course en route from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to Beijing on March 8, 2014, vanishing from radar screens and ending radio contact. Investigators used satellite echoes and other means to surmise that it flew to a remote area about 1,000 miles off the western coast of Australia before crashing into the sea.
The search area lies almost 3,000 miles to the east of Reunion Island and would be considered enormous to search even if it were a piece of dry land without tree cover. But most of the plane is believed to be sitting 1
The search area has been expanded to nearly the size of South Dakota. Although searchers have numerous tools, two of the most effective — sonar towed from a ship and unmanned mini- submarines — move at about the speed of a Roomba vacuum cleaner, capable of scouring only tiny sections of the sea floor each day.
But even if the body of the plane is found, the “black box” is unlikely to reveal what happened in the cockpit after it went off course northeast of the Malaysian coast line. The cockpit voice recorder, which might have revealed that, is on a two-hour loop, and the plane is estimated to have flown for about eight hours before crashing. Anything said as the plane diverted from its course would have been recorded over by the time it went down.
The other half of the black box, the flight data recorder, could provide important details to help authorities determine what went wrong and what ultimately caused the plane to go down.
Experts who theorize that the plane was diverted by cockpit crew or hijackers point to several purposeful actions that occurred before the plane disappeared from radar. Notably, the plane took turns off its intended flight path, ultimately putting it on a heading for the Indian Ocean, and it appeared the electronics that allowed the plane to be tracked were deliberately turned off.
One speculative concept suggests that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53 — distraught, perhaps over marital problems — locked the co-pilot out of the cockpit, turned off the key tracking electronics, piloted the aircraft on a course for the Indian Ocean and then shut off cabin pressurization, suffocating himself and everyone on board hours before the plane ran out of fuel and crashed.
Although Malaysian officials have said the plane’s disappearance appeared to be a “deliberate act,” investigators produced a 584-page interim report in March that said there is no evidence to suggest that either the pilot or co-pilot was responsible.
“The Captain’s ability to handle stress at work and home was good,” the report said. “There was no known history of apathy, anxiety, or irritability. There were no significant changes in his lifestyle, interpersonal conflict or family stresses. There were no behavioral signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse of the captain, first officer and the cabin crew.”
Emily Rauhala in Beijing and Daniela Deane in Rome contributed to this report.