An “international team of experts” has “conclusively confirmed” that debris found on Renuion Island is indeed from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Facebook Wednesday.
“We now have physical evidence that, as I announced on 24th March last year, flight MH370 tragically ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” Razak said.
MH370 disappeared while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 passengers and crew aboard. On July 29, a piece of debris that appeared to be part of an aircraft wing was discovered on a beach on Renuion Island, a French island east of Madagascar in the India Ocean. The debris was later positively identified as a flaperon from a Boeing 777. The piece was shipped to Toulouse, France, for further analysis. In addition to French experts, Malaysia and Australia sent experts to help with the analysis. China also sent representatives to France; 152 of the 239 people on board the flight were Chinese citizens.
The announcement that the debris is, in fact, from MH370 provides the first concrete sign of what happened to the missing plane. Investigators had posited that it crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean; the ongoing search has been focused there. However, this is the first piece of debris confirmed to have come from the missing plane. It will be difficult to use the discovery of a wing fragment over 500 days after MH370 disappeared to narrow down the search zone.
Beaches in Reunion as well as other islands, including Mauritius and the Seychelles, are being searched by local authorities in case more debris washes ashore. Beachcombers in Renuion have already found what may be part of a degraded suitcase, water bottles with Chinese characters on them, and other pieces of plastic. None of the additional debris has been proven to be related to MH370.
Identifying the flaperon as coming from MH370 is only the first step. Analysts will also scour the wing fragment for clues as to the angle of the presumed crash, and the force involved in separating the flaperon from the wing – in other words, any scant clues that might help solve the mystery of what happened the night MH370 went missing.
In his statement, Razak noted the suffering of family members who have waited well over a year for news: “It is my hope that this confirmation, however tragic and painful, will at least bring certainty to the families and loved ones of the 239 people onboard MH370.”
In the meantime, Razak promised that the search for answers will continue:
I would like to assure all those affected by this tragedy that the government of Malaysia is committed to do everything within our means to find out the truth of what happened. MH370’s disappearance marked us as a nation. We mourn with you, as a nation.