An initial drift model that suggested debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could first wash up on Indonesian shores was inaccurate, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said Wednesday. The focus of the search for the missing plane has now shifted to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, after a part from an airplane wing was found there last week.
ATSB said the initial model, from June 2014, mistakenly indicated the west coast of Sumatra as the location where debris from the plane could wash ashore in the first few weeks of July 2014. However, models run by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in November 2014, and updated last month, found that there was an “extremely low probability” that the plane’s debris would wash up in Indonesia.
The new report from CSIRO -- based on an analysis of ocean currents, winds and waves -- supports a theory that debris from Flight MH370 may have washed up "as far west of the search area" as the French island near Madagascar, where a flaperon was found last Wednesday. The current search for the Boeing 777-200 has so far been focused on a 46,332-square-mile part of the southern Indian Ocean, nearly 2,300 miles from the island.
“While this error in that model had no impact on the way the surface search was conducted, it was important in order to understand over the course of time where debris might wash up and help verify or discount the various items found on beaches, particularly on the west coast of Australia,” ATSB wrote in its report.
On Wednesday, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said that an expert from ATSB, which is leading the search for the plane, has been sent to Toulouse, France, to help authorities examining links of the Boeing 777 flaperon to the missing plane.
“An investigator from the ATSB will join the French and Malaysian-led international investigation team today to examine aircraft wreckage found on La Réunion,” Truss said, in a statement. “Malaysian authorities, who are responsible for investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, have determined that the aircraft component retrieved from La Réunion is a flaperon from a B777 aircraft.”
Truss said that officials from Malaysia and France may release a “formal statement about the origin of the flaperon later this week.”
Authorities are scouring the shoreline of Réunion Island to find objects that could help provide long-awaited answers to the mystery of the missing plane. Several “pieces of interest” were found Tuesday on the coastline around Saint-André, and are being analyzed for links to the missing plane. But, authorities have warned that no conclusion should be drawn pending confirmation about the debris.
John Page, an aircraft design expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told the Associated Press (AP) that if the wing fragment is confirmed to be from Flight MH370, it is possible that other debris may have floated off rather than sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Page reportedly said that while the plane’s fuselage likely may have sunk, other lightweight parts could still be afloat.
"I'm certain other bits floated," Page told AP. "But whether they've washed up anywhere is another question. The chances of hitting an island are pretty low," he said, adding that the discovery of the flaperon suggested that the plane broke up after hitting the water.
Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. An international search operation, which has become the costliest in aviation history, has so far failed to provide concrete clues as to the whereabouts of the plane.