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MH370 May Have Landed, Not Crashed, on the Ocean

The state of the found flaperon could indicate the missing plane landed in one piece before sinking.

Wendy Syfret

Wendy Syfret

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Since MH370's disappearance last March, the bulk of theories around the plane's fate have centered on it nosediving into the Indian Ocean and breaking apart on impact. But the discovery of a section of wing (the flaperon) on the French island of Reunion off Maritus on July 29 has raised alternative possibilities. Now, Malaysia's government news agency has suggested the plane may have landed on—not crashed into—the ocean.

The idea was put forward by Malaysian satellite expert Zaaim Reha Abdul Rahman, who worked with one of the teams who tried to locate the plane in the days following the disappearance. He said he formed the theory from satellite data.

Speaking to the Bernama news agency Zaaim explained that the wing section was only slightly damaged, leading him to believe it hadn't been violently torn from the aircraft's main body. "If MH370 had crashed with a really hard impact, we would have seen small pieces of debris floating on the sea immediately after that," he said.

Comparing the piece found on Reunion with debris gathered after Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed in the French Alps in March this year, he said none of those pieces exceeded one foot in length due to the force of the impact. "If MH370 had crashed with a really hard impact, we would have seen small pieces of debris floating on the sea immediately after that. Furthermore, the flaperon that was recovered [from Reunion Island] wouldn't have been in one piece... we would have only seen bits and pieces of it," he added.

With this in mind, he has suggested that the plane glided downwards after running out of fuel, landing softly on the southern Indian Ocean and slowly sank. His suggestion that it's possible for a plane of that size to float for a while before sinking was proved by US Airways Flight 1549 that landed on the Hudson River in 2009, and remained above water for long enough for all 155 passengers and crew aboard to be evacuated.

If MH370 did land in this way, it's possible that some of the 239 people onboard may have still been alive when the plane landed more than seven hours off course. After the impact, Zaaim says he believes the plane "floated for a while" before submerging into the deep sea "in one piece."

US National Transportation Safety Board investigator Greg Feith has also stated that since the recovered part wasn't crushed, it was "either a low-energy crash or low-energy intentional ditching." The theory would also explain the lack of debris found, despite an exhaustive search effort. To date, the flaperon is the only piece of debris that has been linked to the flight. While there have been a handful of other reported sightings of plane parts in the Maldives, none have been confirmed as being part of MH370.

France will continue its air and sea search of the area surrounding where the wing washed up until the beginning of next week. The island's top authority has said in a statement that the search has so far turned up "no significant elements."

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