Teams hunting for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 plan to examine debris found off Australia’s south coast, suggesting the wreckage of the plane that disappeared more than two years ago might be spread over almost 10,000 kilometers of ocean.
The item was found on a beach on Kangaroo Island in South Australia state, said Dan O’Malley, a spokesman for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The ATSB, which is leading the search for MH370, has received photographs of the debris and is making plans for a physical examination, O’Malley said by phone Friday.
Australian television footage showed a piece of pale board with rough edges and an apparent honeycomb structure, shorter than a man’s arm, with the words “NO STEP” in one corner. The same words were on a segment of an MH370 tail stabilizer found on a Mozambique beach in February. The Boeing Co. 777 plane vanished from radar on March 8, 2014, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board.
If confirmed to come from the missing aircraft, the discovery would be the first part of MH370 found east of the main search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, off Australia’s western seaboard. The ATSB said in April that a piece of engine cowling and an interior cabin panel, found separately in South Africa and Mauritius, were “almost certainly” from MH370.
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It’s about 9,725 kilometers from the beach in South Africa where the cowling was found to Kangaroo Island, which is closer to Sydney on the eastern seaboard than Australia’s west coast.
Drift modelling published last year by Australian government scientists suggested ocean currents could have taken plane debris both east and west of the search zone, depending on the exact latitude.
From the center of the search zone, the most common drift direction is west toward Reunion Island, where the first piece of MH370 was found in July 2015. South of the search zone, most trajectories head east to Australia and New Zealand, the maps showed.
Separately, a piece of possible plane debris was also found in Madagascar and Australian authorities are liaising with Malaysian officials to arrange an inspection, the ATSB’s O’Malley said.
Wild winter weather has hampered the search of 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of seabed in the Indian Ocean and the ATSB expects to finish combing through the area in August, later than a previous estimate of mid-year. Less than 15,000 square kilometers remain to be scoured. Without firm clues about the wreck’s location, the search will then end, the ATSB said this week.
Martin Dolan, the outgoing head of the ATSB, told the Guardian newspaper last month that the chances of finding MH370 are fading and searchers have to face possible failure.