US blogger and amateur MH370 sleuth Blaine Alan Gibson found the part, which is believed to be from an aircraft’s horizontal stabiliser, on a sandbank in the Mozambique Channel at the weekend.
Mr Gibson, whose globetrotting investigative ways earned him comparisons to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones character in the US press overnight, has been island-hopping for more than a year, interviewing witnesses about possible sightings of MH370 and combing the coastlines for evidence.
So it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he finally got lucky and found something that came off an aircraft.
What would make it hard to swallow is if the part — which surfaced just days before the second anniversary of MH370’s disappearance — really did come from the plane.
Incredibly, that is increasingly looking like the case.
Independent investigators, who initially assessed the part as unlikely to have come from MH370, now believe the composite is, in fact, consistent with that of a Boeing 777.
Officials have described it as a “fibreglass skin aluminium honeycomb cored panel” with no identifying features other than the printed words “NO STEP” and a fastener made by LISI Aerospace, which makes Boeing 777 parts.
Unless the debris originated from one of two recently written-off Boeing 777s, the probability that it did come from 9M-MRO (MH370’s model name) is now much higher.
BUT WHY IS THE PART SO CLEAN?
What is troubling, though, is the pristine condition of the part compared to the barnacle-encrusted flaperon found in La Reunion last July.
Mr Gibson’s debris is not consistent with an object that has been in the water for two years. There are no barnacles, no algae. Some have speculated the part may have been naturally “cleaned” by the sand and surf but that even in this scenario, there would be some traces of sea life left behind.
Mr Gibson told CNN that his “heart was pounding” when he first spotted the wreckage from a boat he’d chartered for a weekend trip up the coast of Mozambique.
“It never occurred to me that I would find something like this here, it’s almost like a dream,” he said of the find, which was witnessed by the boat’s owner.
“What went through my mind when I found it is that this is something that could be part of an airplane and could be part of that airplane. It seems so unlikely, too, but the thing is nature works in mysterious ways.
“Why does the ocean do what it does? I don’t know. Maybe this is part of that plane, maybe this is part of another. It’s small and it’s very light so maybe it’s just from some light aircraft. It would just be so unbelievable if it actually is from 370. That’s exactly what went through my mind.”
Both US and Malaysian officials have stated the part is “highly likely” to have come from a Boeing 777 and Australian authorities say the location of the debris was consistent with its drift model and the search area in the southern Indian Ocean.
MH370 Independent Group (IG) member Don Thompson said he had changed his mind about the origins of the part after conducting further analysis using photos and video of the object.
“The particular composite technology used on the part was first used on the B767 (and) carried forward to B777, which brought a whole load more carbon composite technology on-board,” Mr Thompson told news.com.au this morning.
“The aircraft maintenance documents that we have access to don’t go into detail on manufacturing specifics. (In terms of) design details, there’s a lot on the innovations brought into B777 but the technology for these particular panels is previous generation and was used on the B767. We’ve now got a catalogue of pics of similar broken ‘bits’ from B777s and we can compare them to Blaine’s part.
“It’s so bloody clean though. The flaperon wasn’t an issue, it looked like it’d been in the water for 16 months.”
Mr Thompson’s comments echoed those of fellow IG member Victor Iannello yesterday when he posted this to a Reddit forum: “I was struck by the condition of the part. It had no barnacles, little or no algae, and no water line. The condition of the part was nothing like the flaperon that was recovered.”
Despite this, Dr Iannello said he had a feeling it did indeed come from the missing airliner but said the lack of identifying features and serial numbers would make it difficult, if not impossible, to trace it back to the actual 777 it came from.
“I do suspect that it is from MH370,” he told news.com.au. “However, I do often wonder if it crashed in the SIO.”
Right after his discovery, Mr Gibson had invited aviation journalist Jeff Wise and a handful of IG members, including Mr Thompson, Dr Iannello and Mike Exner, to privately view photos and video of the part via Facebook.
He handed over the debris to Mozambican officials on Monday and it is understood he expressed a hope for the debris to be examined in Australia.
A spokesman for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is in charge of the search, told news.com.au that the plane part was still in Mozambique while arrangements to bring it to Australia were finalised.
Once it arrives, it will be analysed by specialists from Malaysia and the US as well as investigators from the ATSB, the spokesman said.
The department would not comment on the authenticity of the plane part until it had been examined, he said.
Australian authorities are due to end their search of the southern Indian Ocean in early July, although there are at least two crowd-funding campaigns underway to move it elsewhere ( via news.com.au ).