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article imagePlane debris could be from missing Malaysia Airlines flight

By Nathan Salant     Jul 30, 2015 in Travel
Washington - Plane debris found in the western Indian Ocean appears to be from a Malaysia Airlines airliner that disappeared with 239 passengers and crew last year.
If confirmed, the debris found near Reunion island would be the first trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 found since the Boeing 777 jet disappeared from radar screens in the early morning of March 8, 2014, on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
No sign of the airplane nor its passengers was ever located despite a massive international search of the Gulf of Thailand, the China Sea and the Indian Ocean that is still continuing, according to the Associated Press.
"It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island." said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who is leading the international search 2,600 miles away in an area of the Indian Ocean off western Australia, where the plane is believed to have gone down.
"It doesn't rule out our current search area if this were associated with MH370," he said.
The debris has been sent to France for examination, the AP said.
Reunion Island is on the western edge of the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in New York that he had sent investigators to examine the wreckage.
"Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370," he said.
U.S. and French accident investigators, one of them from airplane manufacturer Boeing, were in general agreement that the debris found Wednesday near Reunion Island appeared to be a navigation component called a "flaperon," which is unique to the Boeing 777.
France has sent law enforcement investigators to the island, a French possession; U.S. investigators were examining photographs of the debris.
The U.S. and French officials asked not to be named because they did not have authority to address the public.
Discovery of wreckage from Flight 370 could help investigators pinpoint why the Boeing 777 crashed without even a distress signal, but may not help find the rest of the wreckage, since over a year has passed since the plane disappeared.
The last confirmed radar contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 placed the jet over the Andaman Sea, 230 miles northwest of Penang, Malaysia.
Reunion Island is 3,500 miles southwest of Penang.
Aviation safety expert John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said if the debris is confirmed as being from Flight 370, it would finally disprove wild theories about Flight 370 being stolen and landed in a far-off corner of the ocean.
"It's going to be hard to say with any certainty where the source of this was," Goglia said.
"It just confirms that the airplane is in the water and hasn't been hijacked to some remote place and is waiting to be used for some other purpose," he said.
Marine geologist Robin Beaman at James Cook University in Australia said there were many examples of large objects traveling long distances on Indian Ocean currents.
Last year, Beaman said, a man lost his boat in rough seas off the Western Australia coast and it turned up eight months later in Mayotte, another French island near Madagascar, 4,600 miles from where it was lost.
"I don't think we should rule anything out, that's for sure," he said.
"The Indian Ocean is a big ocean, but the fact that a boat can go that distance and still be recoverable on the other side of the ocean ... the possibilities are there," Beaman said.
Relatives of Flight 370's passengers and crew had mixed reactions to the news that a part from Flight 370 may have been found, with many disbelieving that the wreckage was from the 777 and others clinging to hope that their loved ones were still alive somewhere.
"It's a great big gaping hole in everybody's life," said Sara Weeks of Christchurch, New Zealand, whose brother, Paul, was a passenger on Flight 370.
"We need to find out what happened to get closure, and move on," she said;
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