MH370 Mystery Continues: French Investigators Unable to Link Found Plane Debris to Missing Plane

A woman whose relative was aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 holds placard after police stopped protesting relatives from entering a road leading to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on August 7. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

In late July, about 3,800 miles away from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370's last known location, a piece of plane debris washed up. It was found on the coast of Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean and appeared to be part of a plane wing from a Boeing 777. MH370, which disappeared March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board, is a Boeing 777. Immediately, rumors began flying that the plane—or at least a piece of it—had been found.

Days later, those rumors were confirmed by the Najib Razak, Malaysia's prime minister. "Today, 515 days since the plane disappeared, it is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts has conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Réunion Island is indeed from MH370," Najib said at a press conference in early August. The airline referred to the finding as a "major breakthrough" and confirmed the piece was a flaperon.

Then the French began to investigate.

Réunion Island is a French territory, and the country was in charge of bringing the plane part to investigators for further analysis. The French began their investigation about a month ago, promising swift results. Several weeks later, they are still haven't released the results. A new report found that these investigators hit a "dead end," unable to confirm definitively that the fragment was part of MH370, even though both the airline and Malaysian government had said otherwise.

Investigators were working with a Spanish company involved in manufacturing the flaperon to confirm its link to MH370 through a serial number. The Spanish company was reportedly unable to make the confirmation, halting the investigation. The plate on which such a number would be was missing.

But there's even more twists to this already exhausting story: Maintenance records for the flaperon aren't as they should be. According to an early August report, records indicate that the found flaperon and the flaperon on MH370 were not an identical match. Plane expert and longtime MH370 tracker Jeff Wise explains: "Airplane parts are engineered precisely, and any changes made to them must be meticulously logged by maintenance personnel. If a part has four holes instead of five, it doesn't just 'not match exactly'—it doesn't match."

Wise also brings up the matter of barnacles. Barnacles appear on photos of the debris. According to Wise, such barnacles are typically found on "a floating object.… Since they obviously can only survive underwater, every part upon which they were growing must have been well submerged for a considerable period of time." This would mean, logically, that the debris was underwater, not floating on the water's surface. But yet, it moved.

Wise explains:

Since [barnacles] obviously can only survive underwater, their distribution around the object suggests that the entirety of it must have spent at least several months submerged.

Therein lies the mystery. While it's easy to imagine a submarine or a scuba diver hovering peacefully 10 or 20 feet under the surface of the water, this is not something that inanimate objects are capable of doing on their own: Either they are more buoyant than water, in which case they float, or they are less buoyant, in which case they sink.

On the other hand, MH370 is the only missing Boeing 777 in the world and, after all, this is still a 777 part. But all of these issues—from serial numbers to barnacles—only add more chaos and mystery to the strangest disappearance of our time.