France will continue air-and-sea search operations around the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean until the beginning of next week for more debris that may be linked to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, an official from the French island said, late Wednesday. French authorities launched the search for new debris on Reunion Island last Friday.
The focus of an international search for the plane shifted to the island near Madagascar after a wing flap washed up on its shores last month. Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search for the plane, reviewed its analysis and said that the discovery of the flaperon -- 17 months after Flight MH370 went missing -- "is consistent with the current underwater search area in the southern Indian Ocean." However, French officials investigating the flaperon have not confirmed that it comes from the missing plane.
"Coordinated searches will continue until the beginning of next week," the Reunion Island official reportedly said, adding that search operations have so far yielded "no significant elements.”
Since the flaperon's discovery, several other objects have also been collected from Reunion Island -- located about 2,300 miles west of the primary search area off the southwestern coast of Australia -- but authorities have ruled out their link to Flight MH370.
Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said Wednesday that the flaperon in “all probability” was from the missing Boeing 777-200. The agency’s comments came on the same day as families of those on board the plane rejected Malaysia’s claim about the flaperon because France and Australia had not yet confirmed the link. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced last week that the part belonged to the plane.
Meanwhile, Zaaim Redha Abdul Rahman, a satellite communications expert, told Bernama, a Malaysian national news agency, that recent evidence suggested that Flight MH370 could be sitting intact on the Indian Ocean floor. Analysis of the flaperon indicates that the plane likely ran out of fuel and floated for a while before sinking, according to Zaaim Redha.
"It (the flaperon) was only slightly damaged and was just encrusted with barnacles. Its appearance indicates that it was not violently torn off from the aircraft's main body...it does seem that it got detached pretty nicely at its edges," Zaaim Redha reportedly said.
Other sightings of debris have been reported, including in the Maldives, which joined the ongoing search for the missing plane last weekend, but so far none of the findings have been authenticated. The debris found on the Maldives will reportedly be sent to Malaysia for inspection. Malaysian authorities have also alerted nearby Madagascar and South Africa to be on the lookout for possible debris.
Over 23,166 square miles of an expanded 46,332 square miles of the southern Indian Ocean have been scoured so far to locate Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.