The Australian authorities say that two pieces of aircraft debris – one discovered in South Africa and one found in Mauritius – are “almost certainly” from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
This follows an announcement in March by the transport ministers of Malaysia and Australia, who said two pieces of debris found in Mozambique were also “almost certainly” from the missing plane.
Last September, the authorities in France announced that an aircraft flaperon found on the island of Reunion last July was from MH370.
The missing Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
In the latest announcement, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said that one of the items of debris was found on a beach at Mossel Bay, South Africa, on March 22.
The second item was found on a beach on Rodrigues Island, a territory of Mauritius, on March 30.
The debris found in South Africa is a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 engine cowling segment, almost certainly from MH370 (registered as aircraft number 9M-MRO), the ATSB states in its report.
A partial Rolls-Royce stencil enabled identification of the part as a segment from an aircraft engine cowling.
“The panel thickness, materials, and construction conformed to the applicable drawings for Boeing 777 engine cowlings,” the ATSB report states.
“There were no identifiers on the engine cowling segment that were unique to 9M-MRO, however the Rolls-Royce stencil font and detail did not match the original from manufacture.
“The stencil was consistent with that developed and used by Malaysia Airlines and closely matched exemplar stencils on other MAB (Malaysia Airlines Berhad) Boeing 777 aircraft.”
The piece of debris found in Mauritius was a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 panel segment from the main cabin “almost certainly from the aircraft registered 9M-MRO”, the ATSB report states.
The report says the item was preliminarily identified by the decorative laminate. The location of a piano hinge on the part surface was consistent with a work-table support leg used on the the exterior of one of the MAB doors.
The part materials, dimensions, construction and fasteners were all consistent with the drawing for the panel assembly and matched that installed on other MAB Boeing 777 aircraft at that door’s location, the report adds.
“There were no identifiers on the panel segment that were unique to 9M-MRO, however the pattern, colour and texture of the laminate was only specified by MAB for use on Boeing 747 and 777 aircraft. There is no record of the laminate being used by any other Boeing 777 customer.”
In his announcement in March, the Malaysian Transport Minister, Liow Tiong Lai, said that the dimensions, materials, and construction of both pieces of debris found in Mozambique conformed to the specifications of a Boeing 777 aircraft.
One of the pieces of debris discovered in Mozambique was found by American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who had been searching for wreckage for a year. He spotted it on a sandbank in February.
The triangular-shaped piece of metal is 94 centimetres long at the base and 60 centimetres high. The words “NO STEP” are printed along one side of the fragment.
This find prompted a South African tourist, Liam Lotter, to come forward with a piece of debris he found on a beach in Mozambique last December and took back with him to South Africa.
Both pieces of debris were flown to Australia for analysis.
Australia’s Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, said the analysis concluded that both pieces of debris were “consistent with panels from a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft”.
The debris, he said, was “almost certainly from MH370”.
Some experts are, however, posing questions about the lack of “marine fouling” on the debris found in Mozambique and South Africa. The flaperon found on Reunion island was covered in barnacles.
The ATSB states in its report that the two pieces of debris found on the coast of Mozambique were located about 220 kilometres from each other.
The debris found in December was initially identified from a number stencilled on the part (676EB) as a segment from a Boeing 777 flap track fairing (Fairing No. 7) from the right wing.
“All measurable dimensions, materials, construction, and other identifiable features conformed to the applicable Boeing drawings for the identified fairing,” the report stated.
“The 676EB stencil font and colour was not original from manufacture, but instead conformed to that developed and used by MAB during painting operations. The part had been repainted, which was consistent with MAB maintenance records for 9M-MRO.”
Reporting its conclusions about the piece of debris found in Mozambique in February, the ATSB said it has been identified as a segment of a Boeing 777 right-hand horizontal stabilizer panel.
“All measurable dimensions, materials, construction, and other identifiable features conformed to the Boeing drawings for the stabiliser panel.”
The words “NO STEP” were marked on the upper surface of the panel in black paint.
“The font and location of the stencil were not original from manufacture, however the stencilling was consistent with that developed and used by Malaysia Airlines,” the ATSB stated.
“A single fastener was retained in the part. The fastener head markings identified it as being correct for use on the stabiliser panel assembly. The markings also identified the fastener manufacturer. That manufacturer’s fasteners were not used in current production, but did match the fasteners used in assembly of the aircraft next in the production line (405) to 9M-MRO (404).”
The ATSB said that, at the time of writing its report, sample testing and marine ecology identification were ongoing.
From initial examination, however, it was concluded that the first piece of debris was a flap track fairing segment, “almost certainly from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, registered 9M-MRO”.
The second item was a horizontal stabiliser panel segment, “almost certainly from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, registered 9M-MRO”.
The flaperon discovered last July was found by a local man, Johnny Begue, on Reunion’s Saint-André beach.
The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said last September that analysis of the flaperon had allowed investigators to determine “with certitude” that it came from Flight MH370.
Liow Tiong Lai said the disovery of debris in Mozambique was consistent with the drift modelling performed by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
Darren Chester said the discovery of debris on the east coast of Africa “further affirms our search efforts in the southern Indian Ocean”.
Map courtesy of the BBC.
There are many, however, who have cast doubt on the calculations made by the British company Inmarsat that determined the search location. Inmarsat analysed satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370 to make its calculations.
The Australia-led underwater search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean is being disrupted by bad weather as winter sets in. About 15,000 square kilometres of the 120,000 square kilometre search area remain to be examined.
It has been stated that once the current search area has been completely covered, which is likely to be by July this year, the search will end.
However, Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, has said that, if MH370 is not found in that area, “Malaysia, Australia, and China will hold a tripartite meeting to determine the way forward”.
Martin Dolan, who heads the ATSB, which is co-ordinating the search, told the BBC that the governments’ positions were unchanged and the search would end soon “unless new and significant information comes to light”.
The disappearance of MH370 is the greatest mystery in aviation history.
Since the plane disappeared there have been countless theories about its fate that range from the perfectly plausible to the wildly bizarre. There have been accusations of ineptitude on the part of the Malaysian government, and allegations of a cover-up.
Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has publicly alleged that the fate of MH370 has been concealed.