MH370: Science writer casts doubt on flaperon finding

The debris found on Reunion Island in July was covered in barnacles. Photo: Video still from ReutersA month after part of an aircraft wing was found on an island in the Indian Ocean, French investigators are yet to confirm it is debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. And an American science writer who has followed the case from the beginning is starting to wonder why.

Jeff Wise – a pilot and author who commented on the mystery for CNN before writing a book called The Plane That Wasn’t There – has drawn attention to the particular type of barnacle encrusted on the flaperon that washed up on the French island of Reunion, near Madagascar.

Writing in New York magazine, he says the “goose barnacles” found on the object can only survive underwater and their distribution suggests the flaperon spent several months submerged.

Wise acknowledges that his observations are based on the comments of an unnamed aeronautics expert quoted in an article that appeared in French news outlet La Depeche on August 21. According to the source, the wing fragment “would not have floated for several months at the water’s surface but would have drifted underwater a few metres deep”.

This would defy the expectations of physics, Wise writes, because the object should either sink or swim. He quotes oceanography professor Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who says: “My experience is that things will go up or down – they will never stay statically neutral.”

Wise is a serial contrarian on matters MH370. His aforementioned book touted a theory that the plane had not headed south into the Indian Ocean but north to Kazakhstan, landing at a disused airstrip. He claimed the electronic signals that informed the southern arc theory could have been tampered with by the hijackers to conceal their true movements.

In his latest work, Wise speculates that the barnacles could be accounted for by “as-yet-unidentified natural processes” or “purposeful intervention by conspirators”. He notes that “the implausibility of it all is quite maddening” but says “when it comes to MH370, maddening and implausible are par for the course”.

Not to mention red herrings. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in early August that it had been “conclusively confirmed” the part was from MH370, only to be contradicted immediately by the French, who said they needed to undertake more tests.

It has now been a month, and the delay is understandably being questioned. A source “close to the investigation” told CNN that a Spanish subcontractor could not confirm their part’s serial number because their staff was “on vacation”. “We’ll have to wait for next week to get their guidance,” the source said.

In the meantime, the surest bet is pure logic. US and Malaysian officials have already said it is “almost certain” the part came from a Boeing 777 aircraft, of which there is only one missing. And the investigator who spoke to CNN at the weekend reiterated: “What we know so far is that it is for sure from a 777. We know that this is the only 777 that is missing in that specific region.”

Other debris, including a suspected plane window, had washed up on the island, but the search was called off in mid-August after nothing further was located. Australia continues to lead the wider search effort to find the plane, which has been missing since March 8, 2014. There were 239 souls on board.

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