More than a year after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing in Southeast Asia, it appears that wreckage from the plane has washed ashore on an island in the western Indian Ocean.
A US official told the Associated Press that air safety investigators have a "high degree of confidence" that a photo of aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean is of a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the plane that vanished on March 8, 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The US official reportedly said that investigators — including a Boeing air safety investigator — have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a 777 wing.
The debris washed ashore on the French island of Reunion, which is just east of Madagascar, roughly 3,800 miles from where the plane was last spotted near the southern tip of Vietnam. Municipal employees found the fragment of an airplane wing, which is approximately two meters long and one meter wide, off the coast of Saint Andre, a community on the remote island.
A French official close to the investigation also confirmed to the AP on Wednesday that French law enforcement is on site to examine a piece of airplane wing. The US and French officials spoke to the AP on condition that they not be named because they aren't authorized to speak publicly. Malaysia's transportation minister said Wednesday that the country has sent a team to inspect the debris.
The plane's disappearance led to an international effort to canvass a nearly 23,000-square-mile search zone. The initial search involved 19 ships and 345 search sorties by military aircraft. The effort cost nearly $94 million and is considered the most expensive search operation in aviation history. Last March, a delegation of families who lost relatives in the crash traveled to Malaysia to demand a renewed search effort, and to ask the Malaysian government to withdraw a statement that declared all 239 passengers and crewmembers on board the flight had died.
The plane flew northwest over Malaysia toward Vietnam, and was last sighted on radar 140 miles southwest of Vietnam, somewhere in the vicinity of the Gulf of Thailand, according to Vietnamese officials. There were conflicting reports immediately after the plane's disappearance about when exactly air traffic controllers lost radio contact. At first, officials reported that they could no longer contact the plane two hours after takeoff, but the figure was later revised to one hour.
After the plane veered off course, a number of conspiracy theories emerged to explain the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance. A Russian newspaper claimed that Afghan terrorists had hijacked the plane, and, after Malaysian police opened an investigation into the airline, rumors surfaced that the company was covering up a pilot's suicide. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made headlines when he claimed that the CIA knew of the plane whereabouts and covered it up. In February, an aviation expert wrote a lengthy feature for New York magazine detailing why the plane may have been hijacked by Russians and flown to Kazakhstan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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