Yannick Pitou / AFP / Getty Images

Plane debris sparks MH370 speculation

Debris found on Indian Ocean island is being examined for links to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Apparent plane debris that washed up on Réunion, a French island in the western Indian Ocean, is being examined by French officials to see if it could be part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which mysteriously disappeared in March 2014 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, bound for Beijing.

The debris, found by beachcombers in St.-André, on the island’s northeast coast, measures about 2 yards long and showed evidence of having been in the water for a long time.

Xavier Tytelman, a French aviation security expert, said it could not be ruled out that the debris belonged to MH370.

"I've been studying hundreds of photos and speaking to colleagues," he told the British newspaper The Telegraph. "And we all think it is likely that the wing is that of a Boeing 777 — the same plane as MH370."

Tytelman, writing in a French aviation blog, said it would take several days before the origin of the debris could be verified. "In a few days, we'll have a definite answer," he wrote.

Air safety investigators — one of them a Boeing investigator —have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Given that there are no other missing 777s, if the piece is confirmed to be from such an aircraft, it could have belonged to Flight 370.

Other aviation officials, however, warned that it is too early to suggest that the debris is from MH370.

"People are getting ahead of themselves over this," Eric Chesneau, a member of Réunion's air transport police, told Reuters 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."

Flight MH370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared from radar screens on March 8 of last year. International recovery operations, led by Australia, have so far yielded no results.

On Wednesday the Australian Transport Safety Bureau posted an update on its website, announcing it is continuing the search for the plane.

"Please be assured that work is continuing and is aimed at finding MH370 as quickly as possible," it said in a statement.

The piece itself could also help investigators figure out how the plane crashed. But whether it will help search crews pinpoint the rest of the wreckage is unclear, given the complexity of the currents in the southern Indian Ocean and the time that has elapsed since the plane disappeared.

The last primary radar contact with Flight 370 placed its position over the Andaman Sea about 230 miles northwest of the Malaysian city of Penang. Reunion is about 3,500 miles southwest of Penang, and about 2,600 miles west of the current search area.

The discovery is unlikely to alter the seabed search, said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who is heading up the hunt 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 search area, 1,100 miles 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."

With wire services

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