Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A piece of wreckage from a plane recently found on the French island of Réunion belongs to the Boeing 777 of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed that a section of the wing, a flaperon*, found on an island near Africa came from Flight MH370, which vanished almost 17 months ago.
The discovery could be a turning point in the mysterious affair, which so far has not produced any evidence to elucidate what happened to the plane and its passengers.
The flaperon was found on a beach on the island of Reunion, which is located east of Madagascar, more than 5,000 kilometres from the search area, off the west coast of Australia. The search covered an area of millions of kilometres, without success.
The possible discovery of a fragment of the aircraft might provide families with answers that neither the airline company nor Chinese and Malaysian authorities have been able to provide.
“Today, 515 days since the plane disappeared, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts have conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion island is indeed from MH370,” Prime Minister Najib said at a briefing.
Although he did not go into details, the Malaysian leader spoke directly to the relatives, saying “The burden and uncertainty faced by the families during this time has been unspeakable. 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 on board MH370”.
French officials used more cautious language, noting only that there was a “very high probability” the wreckage came from MH370. The Australian government also said that “based on high probability, it is MH370”.
The Boeing 777-200 disappeared from radar screen on 8 March 2014 over the sea south of Vietnam. It carried 239 people aboard, including 12 crewmembers. There were 153 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, but also some Australians, Europeans and Americans.
Rumours and speculation as to what happened to the aircraft have had a field day in the past few months: why the plane changed course from its original destination, northbound to Beijing, to the Indian Ocean; and why the jet’s transponder, which allows the ground to track the plane, was shut off.
Investigators have examined a number of possibilities, ranging from espionage to deliberate crash by the pilots, from an accident to terrorism (but so far, no one has claimed any responsibility).
The discovery of a piece of the plane suggests that it ended up in the ocean, but does not provide any explanation as to why, and to what really happened on board the aircraft.
For some relatives of the victims, the development raises more questions than answers and does little to allay concerns.
About a dozen relatives of Chinese passengers protested outside Malaysia Airlines offices in Beijing, complaining about the way Malaysian authorities handled the announcement.
They held signs, including one saying “Malaysia hides the truth”. Some even question the discovery, demanding to be taken to the island to see first-hand. For some, it is a hoax designed to hide the truth. Hours later, the group was invited to closed-door talks with airline officials.
In Kuala Lumpur, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that “we have to respect the feelings of the relatives and understand the inner torment they’ve suffered in the past days.”
Malaysia Airlines had an excellent reputation, with almost four decades without serious accidents. The worst dates back to 1977, when 100 people died.
Every day, it carries up to 37,000 passengers to 80 destinations worldwide. However, in recent years, the company has lost market share to low-cost airlines, including Malaysia-based Air Asia.
* A flaperon is an aircraft control surface that combines aspects of both flaps and ailerons. An aircraft flight control surface allows the pilot to adjust and control the aircraft's flight attitude.