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MH370 investigators to meet in France ahead of wing analysis

Monday, August 3, 2015 - 15:25
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Malaysian aviation experts were to meet their French counterparts and judges Monday to coordinate the investigation into missing flight MH370, days after the discovery of a washed-up plane part offered fresh hopes of solving the mystery.

[PARIS] Malaysian aviation experts were to meet their French counterparts and judges Monday to coordinate the investigation into missing flight MH370, days after the discovery of a washed-up plane part offered fresh hopes of solving the mystery.

Technical experts, including from US aerospace giant Boeing, will from Wednesday begin examining the wing component that surfaced last week on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.

The two-metre long flaperon, already confirmed to be part of a Boeing 777, is virtually certain to have come from the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight, as no other such plane is known to have crashed in the area.

In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course last March and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless.

In January, Malaysian authorities declared all 239 people on board MH370 presumed dead.

The wing part will undergo physical and chemical analysis in the southern French city of Toulouse in a bid to prove beyond doubt that the flaperon once belonged to MH370.

It will be examined with an electron microscope "that can magnify up to 10,000 times" to try to understand how it was damaged, said Pierre Bascary, former director of tests at France's General Directorate for Armaments.

However, experts have warned grieving families not to expect startling revelations from a single part. "We shouldn't expect miracles from this analysis," said Jean-Paul Troadec, former head of France's BEA civil flight authority.

In order to provide clues as to what happened to the aircraft, "the part would need to be at the centre of the accident and the chances are fairly small," he noted.

"With two square metres of plane, it will be difficult to be sure."

Meanwhile, more than 9,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) away, locals on La Reunion were scouring the beaches for more debris that could offer further clues.

What has been described as a "treasure hunt" mentality has led to false alarms, with locals handing in "plane debris" only to discover it is nothing more than ocean rubbish.

"People are calling us for everything," said a local source close to the investigation.

On Sunday, there was a frenzy of speculation over what locals believed to be a plane door but authorities quickly shot down the hopes.

Malaysia's director general of civil aviation Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told AFP the metallic part was "actually from a domestic ladder. It is not a door." Also on Sunday, La Reunion police collected a mangled piece of metal with Chinese characters and attached to what appeared to be a leather-covered handle, sparking more frenzied speculation.

However, 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.

Scientists say it is plausible that ocean currents carried a piece of the wreckage as far as La Reunion.

But 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.

For victims' families, the false alarms and heightened speculation has reopened wounds as they seek closure from their personal tragedies.

"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.

AFP