Eighteen months have passed since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 heading from Kuala Lumpur to the Chinese capital of Beijing disappeared off ATC and military radar until its signal was lost somewhere over the southern Indian Ocean, off the western coast of Australia. Over a year since a Malaysia Airlines-operated Boeing 777, one of the most advanced civilian aircrafts in the industry today, fell through the many gaps in global aviation coverage leading to the biggest multinational search effort in history.
And yet today, as perhaps the most damning of aircraft debris surfaces off the coast of Madagascar (supposedly from a Boeing 777), the world is nowhere closer to solve the greatest mystery in recent history.
Named so in the aftermath of the worst of the French Revolution, the tiny, quaint French island of Réunion would not have been, in the minds of many experts the first place where the debris would supposedly surface. And yet, if initial sources and optimism is to be dissected, it would seem that almost all of them have been proved wrong. As The Guardian reports it, it was during a weekly beach cleanup routine that local islander Johnny Begue find this piece of wreckage, a nine foot by three measure of curved metal and screws that had now been covered by barnacles. Begue immediately pulled it to higher ground, slowly convinced that the debris is part of an aircraft, but little suspecting that it may have come from the downed Malaysia Airlines.
Soon, the news media, investigative journalists and police descended like hounds, and it took a significant amount of time until the area was cordoned off by the local police and access was granted to the investigative agencies of Malaysia, Australia, NTSB, France and Boeing. As of now, the debris in question is being moved to France for further scrutiny. With any luck, the registration number on this part that many believe to be a flaperon, a trailing part of the wing, will provide clues as to whether it is part of an aircraft wreckage, and if it is, whether it is part of a Boeing 777. If it does satisfy both these terms, then this would be the first item of wreckage founds and would conclusively prove the demise of Flight 370 (Considering no other Boeing 777 was lost at sea).
The reaction across the world at this discovery has been met with almost muted optimism, which is expected unless there is conclusive confirmation that the debris is part of MH370. However, even it is indeed part of the downed airline; it wouldn’t make the task of the massive search effort any easier. The island is 4,000 kilometers away from the last confirmed location of the 777 or to put it simply, on the other side of the huge Indian Ocean. Considering the very unpredictable nature of the currents and winds of the watermass, it is almost impossible to pinpoint the exact location of the crash. The flaperon, if it is what it is thought to be, may just have been one of the lighter parts of the aircraft which floated across the ocean after the fuselage broke up upon impact. In other words, the debris, in the larger scheme of things would be hardly conclusive in telling us the story of the flight, the how, why and where of the crash. That said however, there is a good chance that other lighter materials from the flight might have similarly found their way to the coast.
What happened to MH370? It is not for me to say or speculate. However some theories more than other, such as sudden hypoxia or an electrical fire which knocked out the crew and major communications are more plausible to believe. As a Wired article notes, it is also quite possible that the Captain of the flight was in fact, trying to navigate the flight to the nearest airport (Langkawi) when he realized that something was wrong with the flight, a behavior that would explain the sudden deviation off-course by Malaysia Airlines. Until there is proof of foul play, I think it is unfair and cruel to besmirch the memory of a man and a crew who may have been trying to save the lives of their fellow passengers with their dying breath.
As important as this discovery may be, it hardly points us in the direction of any conclusion. The debris will, at the very least give us a general direction of the crash, nothing more. Sadly, even if by some infinitesimal chance that the search party finally does find the main wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it will be years before anyone knows what actually caused the crash. Consider this, the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 was discovered within days of its crash but, its black box and flight data recorders were not recovered until two years later. When news of this discovery reached the families of the presumed dead, many of them were skeptical. And honestly, who can blame them? For all these bereaved families, justice and closure remains at an arm’s length. And until the mystery of MH370 is solved, no one is any closer to get any of these.