Mozambique plane debris ‘fits theories of flight 370 wreckage’

Joao de Abreu, president of Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute, holds a piece of aircraft wreckage thought to have come from flight 370. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Joao de Abreu, president of Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute, holds a piece of aircraft wreckage thought to have come from flight 370. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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An American who discovered an aircraft part in Mozambique that may be from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said that he initially thought it was from a much smaller plane.

Blaine Gibson, who has been searching the region’s beaches for the debris, said that a boat operator who took him to a sandbank named Paluma called him over after seeing a piece of debris with “No Step” written on it.

It’s important to keep it in perspective. This is about the families of the 239 victims, who haven’t seen their relatives for two years

Blaine Gibson

“It was so light,” Gibson said.

He said the discovery happened after he decided to go “somewhere exposed to the ocean” on the last day of a trip to the Mozambican coastal town of Vilankulo.

“At first, all I found were usual beach detritus – flip flops, cigarette lighters. Then ‘Junior’ called me over,” said Gibson, using the nickname of the boat operator.

The debris turned up in a spot that matches investigators’ theories about where wreckage from the plane would have ended up, according to Australian officials.

The plane is believed to have crashed somewhere in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean far off Australia’s west coast and about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) to the east of Mozambique. But authorities have long predicted that any debris from the plane that isn’t on the ocean floor would eventually be carried by currents to the east coast of Africa.

Gibson said the piece of debri is in the hands of civil aviation authorities in Mozambique, and that he expects it to be transferred to their Australian counterparts.

“It’s important to keep it in perspective,” Gibson said. “This is about the families of the 239 victims, who haven’t seen their relatives for two years now.”

Photos of the debris appear to show the fixed leading edge of the right-hand tail section of a Boeing 777, said a US official. Flight 370 is the only known missing 777.

Australian transport minister Darren Chester said the location of the debris in Mozambique matches investigators’ drift modeling and would therefore confirm that search crews are looking in the right part of the Indian Ocean for the main underwater wreckage. Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai also said the location of the debris lines up with investigators’ predictions.

People who have handled the part – a horizontal stabiliser – say it appears to be made of fiberglass composite on the outside, with aluminum honeycombing on the inside, the US official said.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is running the search for the plane, said the part is expected to be transported to Australia for examination.

Malaysian civil aviation department officials and Malaysia Airlines were heading to Mozambique to discuss the find, Liow said.

From the pictures shown, it’s high probability that the plane debris is from Boeing 777, Liow said. He did not know how long it would be before the part was sent to Australia. Meanwhile, authorities in Mozambique were searching the area where it was found for other potential debris.