When a wing section of a Boeing 777 washed up on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion last month, the Malaysian government quickly ascribed the part to missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. But according to the ongoing investigation, the flaperon's identity is far from certain.
What Boeing engineers have confirmed is that the flaperon wing segment is from a 777. And MH370, which went missing in March of 2014, is the only 777 unaccounted for. Case closed, right?
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak decided it was and on 5 August, he released a statement announcing as much. Minutes later, French investigator Serge Mackowiak countered the prime minister's remarks, saying that more tests were needed to conclusively determine the wing segment's origin. Those test results were supposed to come within a day. Then a few days. Now it's been several weeks.
What's the hang-up? According to New York Magazine, the ID plate that should have been attached to the inboard edge of the flaperon is missing. This plate, affixed to all 777 flaperons, ought to contain a serial number linking the part to MH370. Its absence has not only stymied the investigation, it's causing other strange facets of the wing segment to come under scrutiny.
For instance, the flaperon was covered in barnacles, sessile marine organisms that survive underwater by affixing themselves to floating objects. Barnacles, New York Magazine reports, might suggest the wing segment spent the last several months suspended beneath the ocean surface. Which is confusing, to say the least:
While it's easy to imagine a submarine or a scuba diver hovering peacefully 10 or 20 feet [3-6m] 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.
So, how could a six-foot-long [1.8m] chunk of aeroplane remain suspended beneath the ocean surface for a long period of time? At this point, there aren't any simple, common-sense answers; the range of possible explanations at this point runs from as-yet-unidentified natural processes to purposeful intervention by conspirators.
If one thing is certain in all this, it's that we haven't heard the last of missing flight MH370.