Will The MH370 Search Area Change Now That Debris Has Been Found On Reunion Island?

An aviation expert found part of a plane wing on Réunion Island, which is in the southwest Indian Ocean, on Wednesday and believes that it could be a piece of Malaysia Airlines MH370, the flight that disappeared over a year ago with 239 people on board. It's a huge development since Malaysia's government called off the search, declared the loss an accident, and presumed all of the passengers and crew dead. Will the MH370 search area change now that debris believed to belong to the plane has been found? Searchers said this update is unlikely to change seafloor search locations, according to the Associated Press.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who heads the seabed search, told the AP that searchers had been using drift modeling to comb different parts of the ocean floor about 1,100 miles southwest of Australia in search of wreckage. So, if this debris ends up belonging to MH370, he said it would still be consistent with the 46,000 square mile (120,000 square kilometer) search area that searchers predicted. If the wreckage on Réunion is from MH370, Dolan said that searchers would probably just continue the seabed search with sonar and video for wreckage rather than bring back a surface search, according to the AP:

It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island. ... It's unlikely to change the search plans. It would give us confirmation that there is an aircraft definitely in the Indian Ocean.

Though Malaysia Airlines has said it would be "premature" to speculate about the origin of the debris, an aviation expert identified the part as a flaperon, which is a wing component, and said that it looks like what you would find on a Boeing 777, the kind of plane that was used for MH370, according to the BBC.

Réunion Island is just east of Madagascar — about 3,500 miles, or 5,556 kilometers, from the plane's last known location in the Straight of Malacca, according to CNN. Dolan said that if this debris does belong to MH370, it will dispel rumors that the plane flew more north and landed in the British Indian Ocean territory Diego Garcia or flew over North Korea.

Most of the victims' families are anxiously awaiting a definitive answer about the wreckage. Jacquita Gomes, the wife of the in-flight supervisor for flight MH370, told the BBC that she is torn by the news:

A part of me hopes that it is (MH370) so that I could have some closure and bury my husband properly but the other part of me says 'no, no, no' because there is still hope.

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