Wing part proof missing MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean 'but we don't know where or why'
Relatives of the 239 passengers and crew on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been told that investigators are certain their loved ones perished in the Indian Ocean. But how they died, and where they are, remains the greatest unsolved mystery in aviation.
The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 last year on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Despite a massive international effort, for 16 months no trace of the plane was found. But last week a fragment of a wing was discovered on a beach on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
In a live television broadcast, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said: "Today, 515 days after the plane disappeared, it is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts have conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion is indeed from MH370."
The premier said: "The loss of MH370 marked us as a nation. The burden and uncertainty faced by the families during this time has been unspeakable. They have our deepest sympathy and prayers."
The wing part was found on a beach on the east coast of the island. Reunion is part of France, and French investigators immediately took charge of the evidence. It was flown to Paris then driven to an aeronautical laboratory outside Toulouse. Experts at this French military facility have experience of examining debris from oceanic crashes, acquired from the analysis of Air France flight AF447, which was lost in the Atlantic in 2009.
Formal examination of the wing part was under the direction of a judge. Four passengers were French, and the analysis is part of a criminal investigation into the disappearance of MH370.
Serge Mackowiak, deputy chief prosecutor of Paris, said Boeing representatives had confirmed the flaperon was from a 777, while Malaysia Airlines officials supplied technical evidence that it was from the missing plane.
The finding is likely to put to rest some of the wilder theories about the fate of MH370 - such as the plane being flown, under orders of the Kremlin, to Kazakhstan. But the truth about what happened in the hours after communication ended over the South China Sea remains elusive.
The wing will give investigators clues about how the aircraft entered the water. That the flaperon is largely intact has been interpreted as suggesting a human hand was at the controls when its flight ended, and undertook a low-speed ditching into the sea.
Only when, or if, the fuselage is found could the most pressing questions be answered.