Malaysia’s government said Thursday that two more pieces of debris, discovered in South Africa and Rodrigues Island off Mauritius, were “almost certainly” from Flight 370, bringing the total number of pieces believed to have come from the missing Malaysian jet to five.
The aircraft mysteriously disappeared more than two years ago with 239 people on board, and so far an extensive underwater search of a vast area of the Indian Ocean off Australia’s west coast has turned up empty.
Though the discovery of the debris has bolstered authorities’ assertion that the plane went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean, none of the parts have thus far yielded any clues into exactly where and why the aircraft crashed. Those elusive answers lie with the flight data recorders, or black boxes, which may never be found, said Geoff Dell, a specialist in accident investigation at Central Queensland University in Australia.
“It shows they’re looking in the right ocean — that’s about it,” Dell said.
Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the two new parts were an engine cowling piece with a partial Rolls-Royce logo and an interior panel piece from an aircraft cabin — the first interior part found from the missing plane.
An international team of experts in Australia who examined the debris concluded that both pieces were consistent with panels found on a Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777 aircraft, Liow said.
“As such, the team has confirmed that both pieces of debris from South Africa and Rodrigues Island are almost certainly from MH370,” he said in a statement.
All five pieces have been found in various spots around the Indian Ocean. Last year, a wing part from the plane washed ashore on France’s Reunion Island. Then in March, investigators confirmed two pieces of debris found along Mozambique’s coast were almost certainly from the aircraft.
The jet, which vanished on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is believed to have crashed somewhere in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean about 1,100 miles off Australia’s west coast. Authorities had predicted that any debris from the plane that isn’t on the ocean floor would eventually be carried by currents to the east coast of Africa.
Investigators are examining marine life attached to the debris to see if it could somehow help them narrow down where it entered the ocean, but haven’t discovered anything useful yet.
The interior part, identified by its decorative laminate, is a panel from the main cabin and believed to be part of a door closet, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a technical report.
But even this interior piece is also unlikely to prove very helpful to investigators, said Dell, the accident investigation expert. It won’t, for example, answer the question that some have raised about whether anyone was still at the controls of the plane at the end of its flight, or whether the plane spiraled uncontrollably into the water after running out of fuel.
“I wouldn’t hang your hat too much on what it says, other than it’s got to come out of the airplane somehow and that suggests there was a structural failure in the fuselage that allowed it to get out,” he said. “But how, exactly — who knows?”
That part was found by tourists on Rodrigues Island, while the piece with part of a Rolls-Royce logo was found by an archaeologist while walking along South Africa’s southern coast.
So far, crews have combed more than 40,000 square miles of an underwater search zone to no avail. They expect to complete their sweep of the area by the end of June.