Air Force to examine 'jet debris' amidst MH370 conjecture

Air Force to examine 'jet debris' amidst MH370 conjecture

This is the actual Boeing 777 designated as Flight MH370 late on March 8, 2014, when it veered off course and disappeared. Inquiries are under way to determine if debris found off Nakhon Si Thammarat on Saturday could be part of this airplane. (File photo)
This is the actual Boeing 777 designated as Flight MH370 late on March 8, 2014, when it veered off course and disappeared. Inquiries are under way to determine if debris found off Nakhon Si Thammarat on Saturday could be part of this airplane. (File photo)

The air force said Sunday it would bring a piece of suspected aircraft debris found off the Nakhon Si Thammarat coast to Bangkok, with the primary thought that it could have something to do with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

Thai aviation experts who had inspected the plane wreckage confirmed Sunday serial numbers found on its bolt parts belong to the Boeing 777 model.

The metal panel measures two by three metres. It was found by fishermen in the Gulf of Thailand just off the provincial coast on Saturday.

It was encrusted by barnacles, and fishermen said this meant it has been in the water for about a year.

Thai army aviation experts have already inspected the debris and agreed it was likely to be from an aircraft, although more tests are needed for confirmation.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, with 239 people on board, vanished late at night on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing .

Flight MH370 flew to this point (circled) on its flight plan to Beijing late on March 8, 2014, then veered back over Malaysia and the Indian Ocean. Thai fishermen found the debris Saturday just off the Nakhon Si Thammarat coast, shown by the red target. (Graphic, Bangkok Post)

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said he instructed Malaysian civil aviation officials to contact Thailand about the newly found wreckage, a curved piece of metal measuring about 2 meters by 3 meters (6 { feet by 10 feet) with electrical wires hanging from it and numbers stamped on it in several places.

"I urge the media and the public not to speculate because it will give undue pressure to the loved ones of the victims of MH370," he said.

Thailand's Transportation Ministry said four Malaysian officials and two Thai experts will visit the site Monday.

Mr Liow said the search for the missing jet is ongoing thousands of kilometres away in the southern Indian Ocean and that its second phase is expected to be completed by June. Australia has led a multinational search that has so far cost more than $120 million.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau spokesman Dan O'Malley said the agency was awaiting results of an official examination of the debris.

A specialist Thai team of more than 10 aviation experts led by Air Vice Marshal Sorrakrit Mungsing, head of the Office of Royal Thai Air Force’s Safety Centre, will go to Pak Phanang district Monday to collect the panel.

"It will be brought to Bangkok for further study as it needs special equipment to investigate what kind of aircraft it came from," said Royal Thai Air Force spokesman, Air Vice Marshal Pongsak Semachai.

"It does not belong to a Thai air force aircraft," he added.

Tha Phraya village chief Pramote Ruangdit ordered a ban on villagers observing the debris until the experts’ inspection. The area was cordoned off to stop people getting near it.

Mr Pramote said villagers thwarted an effort by police to move the debris, after they were notified of the discovery.

Local people inspect the metal debris hauled onto the Nakhon Si Thammarat province beach by fishermen on Saturday. (Photo by Nutcharee Rakrun)

Reuters quoted aviation experts as saying the panel unlikely to belong to the MH370 aircraft.

They agreed that while powerful currents sweeping the Indian Ocean could deposit debris thousands of kilometres away, wreckage was extremely unlikely to have drifted across the equator into the northern hemisphere.

The location of the debris in Thailand "would appear to be inconsistent with the drift models that appeared when MH370's flaperon was discovered in Reunion last July," said Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor at Flightglobal, an industry publication.

"The markings, engineering, and tooling apparent in this debris strongly suggest that it is aerospace related," he said. "It will need to be carefully examined, however, to determine it's exact origin."

Other possible sources of aerospace debris included the launching of space rockets by India eastwards over the Bay of Bengal, according to Mr Waldron.

Thanyarat Phatikongphan, district chief of Pak Phanang, speculated the piece belonged "to an aircraft's nose... because there are electronic wires, insulators on it".

Numbers on the panel should help identification, he added.

Although there was no firm confirmation the piece was part of an aircraft, media swiftly speculated that it may have come from flight MH370.

In July of last year a two-metre-long wing part known as a flaperon washed up on a beach on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. The island is several thousand kilometres southwest of Thailand.

Experts traced the wing part to the ill-fated MH370, the first firm evidence that it met a tragic end.

Unlike Reunion, the Gulf of Thailand is not in the path of ocean currents from the remote area of the Indian Ocean where it is believed the plane went down.

Nothing has been found since the Reunion discovery, despite a search which has so far covered more than 80,000 square kilometres (30,888 square miles) of the seabed.

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