While there is a high probability that a piece of missing flight MH370 has been found on La Reunion Island near Mauritius, there are some key areas of doubt needing resolution.

One is the degree of marine growth hanging off the large object, which may not be consistent with the time the Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER would have been in the water (and relatively still water at that) since it crashed on March 8 last year.

Another is the possibility that the wreckage is from an earlier generation 777 that had been retired may have been broken up and sold off piecemeal.

Everything now depends on physical and positive identification of the part found yesterday morning on La Reunion as actually coming from MH370, which is the only missing 777, and not from a lost spare parts inventory, implausible as this might seem.

It isn’t known at this stage if any further search of the coastline where the unidentified part was found has turned up other objects of interest.

However, American media has been told by unofficial sources in Boeing that the available images of the object are consistent with it being a flaperon forming part of the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing.

The shape and dimensions of the object found on La Reunion is considered as perfect a fit for a 777 flaperon as it is possible to make by comparing the images with the real thing in Seattle.

La Reunion is a long way from the priority search area for MH370 south-west of Perth in the southern Indian Ocean. That search is managed by Australia and directed by Malaysia and based on best estimates of the course most likely flown by the jet, which had 239 people on board when it departed Kuala Lumpur for a routine red-eye middle of the night flight to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

Until now not a single physical item sourced to MH370 has been found, despite extensive searching.

The jet abruptly veered off its planned route about 42 minutes after takeoff when it was over the Gulf of Thailand and travelling from Malaysian airspace to that under the control of Vietnam.

It is then believed to have gone dark to air traffic control through the deliberate shutting down of its identifying transponder, crossed westwards over the Malay Peninsula, and followed a puzzling path north of the entrance to the main Strait of Malacca until it disappeared from military radar and then turned south towards the southern Indian Ocean.

In a statement the minister responsible for aviation, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, says a drift of wreckage from the current search zone to La Reunion “would be consistent with other analysis and modelling that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern Indian Ocean”.

It isn’t clear how long it will take for a positive identification of the part as having come from MH370.

However, the state of the object, and the time and distance and average drift speed required, could cause current best estimates of the resting place of the heavier wreckage from MH370 to be revised.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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