MH370 latest: Five key questions answered

What happens when a plane crashes into the ocean?

Latest: Australia is leading the hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which is thought to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, with experts in France due to examine Wednesday a wing part that washed up on La Reunion island

The national science agency, CSIRO, along with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, has performed drift modelling based on their current search zone for the jet that vanished last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Here are some of their insights released Wednesday: 

Q. What happens when a plane crashes into the ocean?

A. There is almost always some debris left floating after an aircraft crashes in water. The opportunity to locate and recover debris from the sea surface diminishes rapidly over the first few weeks from the time of a crash. Thereafter, some less permeable items of debris will remain afloat for a longer period but they will be increasingly dispersed.   

Q. What type of debris from a plane is likely to float?

A. Items designed to float include seat cushions, life jackets, escape slides. Many items from the cabin, such as cabin linings and tray tables, which are made of low density synthetic materials, can also remain buoyant. Similarly, aircraft structural components may entrap enough air to remain afloat for reasonable periods and have been commonly found on the water's surface following a crash.

Q. How long does debris stay afloat?

A. Over time, all floating debris will become waterlogged and then sink. For some items this may be relatively fast. For example, items which are buoyant due to entrapped air will sink when the air is released or void spaces become filled, a process which is hastened by the action of wind and waves.

Other items constructed of materials which are less permeable, such as seat cushions, will float for long periods but they too will eventually sink when the material degrades through chemical and/or mechanical decomposition. This decomposition may take a very long time in the case of some synthetic materials, plastics in particular, but is quicker for items which biodegrade.

Q. Is it unusual for wreckage to wash ashore?

A. The opportunity to locate and recover debris from the sea surface diminishes rapidly over the first few weeks from the time of a crash. Thereafter, there will be some less permeable items of debris which will remain afloat for a longer period but they will be increasingly dispersed.

Dispersal is directly related to the surface drift experienced by the individual items of debris, which in turn is related to their physical characteristics: size, shape and density. To be found ashore, an item of debris must remain afloat long enough and be subjected to the right combination of wind and currents for it to make landfall.  

Q. Could debris from MH370 have drifted 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) west from where the current search for the plane is underway in the southern Indian Ocean to the French territory of La Reunion Island?

A. Yes. The most recent drift modelling indicated that most debris from MH370 is likely to have drifted first north then west away from the probable accident site in the 16 months since the plane disappeared to July 2015.

The drift analysis undertaken by the CSIRO further supports that the debris from MH370 may be found as far west of the search area as La Reunion Island.

Source: Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Water bottle clue

Authorities hunting for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are “increasingly confident” that a damaged wing part found on an Indian Ocean island was from the ill-fated jet, as new reports claimed a Chinese water bottle and Indonesian cleaning product washed up onshore.

(Twitter)
 
The bottle and canister were reported found a day after a local beachcomber discovered a mangled suitcase shell on Saint-Andre, the same place where the wing flap was found.

(Twitter)

Mauritius will do all it can to search

Mauritius it would do all it can to search in its Indian Ocean waters for possible debris from Malaysia Airlines missing flight MH370, after wreckage washed up on nearby La Reunion.

"We have responded positively to a request from the government of Malaysia," Deputy Prime Minister Xavier-Luc Duval told reporters Monday. "Every effort will be undertaken to locate any debris."

Coastguard ships were deployed Monday in the search, while appeals were made to private boats and fishermen to inform police if they sighted any possible wreckage, Duval added.
 

Hope washed way?

A fevered hunt for more wreckage from missing flight MH370 on La Reunion island turned up no new clues Sunday as authorities said metallic debris found by locals did not come from an airplane.
 
However, Malaysia urged authorities in the Indian Ocean region to be on the lookout for debris washing up on their shores after the discovery of part of a Boeing 777 wing raised hopes it could help solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

Australian search authorities are leading the hunt for the aircraft. (AFP)

Locals on La Reunion island have been combing the shores since the wing part was found last Wednesday, handing over bits of what they believe to be wreckage to police.

On Sunday, several pieces of debris sparked excitement, one of which was believed by locals to be from a plane door.
 
However investigators quickly shot down hopes.
 
Malaysian Director-General of Civil Aviation Azharuddin Abdul Rahman who is in France for the analysis of the wing part, told AFP one item "was actually from a domestic ladder. It is not a door".
 
And a source close to the investigation in Paris said "no object or debris likely to come from a plane" had been placed into evidence on Sunday.

Police on the Indian Ocean island also collected Sunday a mangled piece of metal inscribed with two Chinese characters and attached to what appears to be a leather-covered handle.
 
Chinese internet users suggested it may be a kettle.
 
"People are more vigilant.
 
"They are going to think any metallic object they find on the beach is from flight MH370, but there are objects all along the coast, the ocean continually throws them up," said Jean-Yves Sambimanan, spokesman for the town of Saint-Andre where the wing debris was found.
 
He said islanders were also dumbfounded that after cursory helicopter flights the day after the wing part was found, no official search of the coastline is under way.

"If it comes from a plane it would be a pity if I didn't take it" to police, said Luc Igounet, 62, who found the metal bar that turned out to be from a ladder.
 
'Treasure hunt' mentality
 
The rush to find more debris showed the desperation for answers 16 months after MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
 
"There is a sort of 'treasure hunt' mentality that is taking hold and people are calling us for everything," said a local source close to the investigation.
 
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said civil aviation authorities were reaching out to their counterparts in other Indian Ocean territories to be on the lookout for further debris that could provide "more clues to the missing aircraft."
 
He also confirmed that the wing part had been "officially identified" as from a Boeing 777 -- making it virtually certain that it was from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
 
Flight MH370 is the only Boeing 777 to ever be lost at sea.

The flight's mysterious disappearance, which saw it vanish off radars as a key transponder appeared to have been shut off, has baffled aviation experts and grieving families and given rise to a myriad conspiracy theories.
 
Speculation on the cause of the plane's disappearance has focused primarily on a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.
 
Debris won't solve mystery
 
Scientists say it is plausible that ocean currents carried a piece of the wreckage as far as La Reunion.
 
However Roland Triadec, a local oceanographer, said La Reunion represented only "a pinhead" in the Indian Ocean and the likelihood of other debris washing up there was low.
 
Authorities have warned that even if the debris confirmed to come from MH370 it is unlikely to completely clear up one of aviation's greatest puzzles.
 
The mystery of what happened to the plane and where it went down exactly are still likely to persist unless the black box is found.

The flaperon will be examined in a lab near the French city of Toulouse that specialises in plane crash investigations.
 
Four Malaysian officials including the head of civil aviation are in Paris together with officials from Malaysia Airlines for a meeting on Monday with three French magistrates and an official from France's civil aviation investigating authority BEA.

Australian search authorities leading the hunt for the aircraft some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) from La Reunion are confident the main debris field is in the current search area.
 
For the families of the victims, the discovery of the part has been yet another painful twist on an emotional rollercoaster.
 
"It has been hurting for so long. We need the closure and all the evidence possible so that we can go ahead with our lives," said Nur Laila Ngah, the wife of the flight's chief steward Wan Swaid Wan Ismail.

France watch

Airplane debris that washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion and may belong to the vanished Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 arrived in France on Saturday for investigators to study its origin.

According to a Reuters witness and Agence France Presse, an Air France flight carrying the debris landed at Orly airport near Paris at 0417 GMT.

It will be delivered to a military unit near the southwest city of Toulouse which specialises in analysing aviation wreckage.

Experts hope the barnacled 2-2.5 metres (6.5-8 feet) long wing surface known as a flaperon and a fragment of luggage could yield clues as to the fate of Malaysia Airlines  Flight MH370, which vanished without trace in March 2014.

There were 239 passengers and crew on board, and some families of the victims are demanding further compensation from the airline.

M

Increasingly confident

Authorities hunting for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 said Friday they were "increasingly confident" that wreckage found on an Indian Ocean island was from the ill-fated jet, raising hopes of solving one of aviation's great mysteries.

The two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wreckage is to be sent to France for analysis, with hopes high that it could turn out to be the first tangible proof the plane went down in the Indian Ocean.

Investigators are hoping they will be able to move closer to solving the perplexing mystery swirling around the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which vanished without a trace 16 months ago with 239 people aboard.

(AFP)

"We are increasingly confident that this debris is from MH370," Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau which is leading the MH370 search, told AFP.

"The shape of the object looks very much like a very specific part associated only with 777 aircraft."

Dolan, however, echoed comments Thursday by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who said the object was "very likely" from a Boeing 777 but cautioned that it remained to be confirmed, in a case notorious for disappointing false leads.

Dolan said he was hoping for greater clarity "within the next 24 hours".

(AFP)

Several experts believe the debris is a Boeing 777 flaperon, a wing part, and that if it is confirmed it almost certainly belonged to the Malaysia Airlines plane, whose disappearance became one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

The recovered object is expected to be flown to a testing site in France near the city of Toulouse for analysis by aviation authorities and could reach there by Saturday, French sources told AFP.

Authorities involved in the search at sea, guided by the analysis of signals from the plane that were detected by a satellite, believe it went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

But no confirmed physical evidence has ever been found and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.

Consistent with what we expect

Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said he remained confident the hunt for MH370 was being conducted in the right area, with wreckage in La Reunion consistent with currents from the zone they are scouring.

"It's not positive proof, but the fact that this wreckage was sighted on the northern part of the Reunion Island is consistent with the current movements, it's consistent with what we might expect to happen in these circumstance," he said.

Truss added: "We remain confident that we're searching in the right place."

Valborg Byfield, a scientist at the National Oceanography Centre in Britain, said there were two ocean currents which could have swept the wreckage from the crash site to La Reunion.

"Were the plane to have gone done south of the equator, the debris might have been transported by the South Equatorial Current, which bifurcates as it approaches the African coast, with one stream going south along the eastern coast of Madagascar. This would take it past La Reunion."

For relatives of those aboard, torn between wanting closure and believing their loved ones were still somehow alive, the discovery was yet another painful turn on an emotional rollercoaster.

"It has started all over again, staring at the phone constantly for news," said Jacquita Gonzales, wife of Patrick Gomes, the flight's cabin crew supervisor.

Malaysian MH370 debris on beach?

A mysterious piece of plane debris washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion on Wednesday, prompting some speculation it could be part of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The two-metre-long piece of wreckage, which seemed to be part of a wing, was found by people cleaning up a beach.

“It was covered in shells, so one would say it had been in the water a long time,” said one witness.

The large piece of aircraft wreckage that washed up on Reunion Island appears to come from a wing. (Twitter)

French air transport officials have already opened an investigation into where the wreckage could have come from.

Xavier Tytelman, an expert in aviation security, said it could not be ruled out that the wreckage belonged to MH370, which vanished without trace in March last year.

No part of the wreckage has ever been found in one of aviation’s great mysteries and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.

The plane disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

(AFP)

Tytelman said that local media photos showed “incredible similarities between a #B777 flaperon and the debris found” – refering to a Boeing 777 – the type of plane that disappeared.

Malaysia says almost certain debris found off Madagascar is from a Boeing 777

Malaysia is "almost certain" that plane debris found on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean is from a Boeing 777, the deputy transport minister said on Thursday, heightening the possibility it could be wreckage from missing Flight MH370.

France's BEA air crash investigation agency said it was examining the debris, found washed up on Reunion Island east of Madagascar on Wednesday, in coordination with Malaysian and Australian authorities, but that it was too early to draw conclusions.

Aviation experts who have seen widely circulated pictures of the debris said it may be a moving wing surface known as a flaperon, situated close to the fuselage.

"It is almost certain that the flaperon is from a Boeing 777 aircraft. Our chief investigator here told me this," Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi told Reuters.

Abdul Aziz said a Malaysian team was heading to Reunion Island, about 600 km (370 miles) east of Madagascar.

It would take about two days to verify if the piece was from MH370, he added.

A person familiar with the matter earlier told Reuters the part was almost certainly from a Boeing 777.

The piece usually contains markings or parts numbers that should allow it to be traced to an individual aircraft, the person added.

Investigators believe someone deliberately switched off MH370's transponder before diverting it thousands of miles off course. Most of the passengers were Chinese.

Beijing said it was following developments closely.

 

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