Although it is undoubtedly exciting that airplane debris found in the Indian Ocean this week might finally provide proof that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 crashed in the ocean, that doesn’t mean that authorities are about to learn much else about what happened to the plane.
As the New York Times points out in a real downer of a story, a stray piece of a plane may not answer questions like, “Where is the plane?” “Why did it crash?” or “Does that mean it still could have disappeared in a black hole?”
Oceanographer David Mearns told the Times, “It’s a little bit like someone who went missing from the East Coast who, a year later, turns up dead in California,” he said. “Without any additional information, you have no idea how they got there, what roads they would have taken. … “It’s the same kind of thing we are dealing with here, only there are no roads in the ocean. There is an infinite number of routes that debris could have taken.”
Other publications have noted the same thing.
David Learmount, a former pilot and air-safety editor of trade publication Flight Global, said on a blog post that he’s not expecting this week’s discovery to herald a breakthrough.
Tracing the jet component to its possible origin based on currents and wind “would provide such a massive approximation that it would indicate a larger search area than the one the Australian government has already searched”, Mr Learmount said.
Otherwise, the debris itself, even if confirmed to have come from flight MH370, is unlikely to shed immediate light on the ultimate cause of aviation’s greatest mystery.
Locating the wreckage of the plane still seems like a faraway goal — especially if the plane did crash in the ocean. As the Washington Post pointed out last year, the black box of MH370 — the most important piece of evidence investigators could find — could be three miles underwater, further down than humans have ever traveled. The battery on the black box was old when the plane disappeared, too, and stopped pinging a long time ago.
On the other hand, a Federal Aviation Administration official told The Wall Street Journal he was “always amazed at what metallurgists are able to do with analyses of ruptures and fissures. They can tell quite a bit from even a small part.” However, it might take authorities in France a while to reveal whatever the piece of debris tells them — although investigators have told media outlets that they are almost sure it comes from the plane. The Journal reported this morning that analysis could take more than a few days.
Meanwhile, locals are scouring the beaches of La Reunion Island, hoping to find more debris. Johnny Begue, who helped find the piece of debris that will soon be tested, told NBC News he is “searching all the time now. I hope to find something that will say definitely it’s from the plane so that the families can have some relief from their mourning.”