A fevered hunt for more wreckage from missing flight MH370 on La Reunion island turned up no new clues on Sunday (Aug 2) as authorities said metallic debris found by locals did not come from an airplane.
However, Malaysia urged authorities in the Indian Ocean region to be on the lookout for debris washing up on their shores after the discovery of part of a Boeing 777 wing raised hopes it could help solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries.
Locals on La Reunion island have been combing the shores since the wing part was found last Wednesday, handing over bits of what they believe to be wreckage to police. On Sunday, several pieces of debris sparked excitement, one of which was believed by locals to be from a plane door. However investigators quickly shot down hopes.
Malaysian Director General of Civil Aviation Azharuddin Abdul Rahman who is in France for the analysis of the wing part, told AFP one item "was actually from a domestic ladder. It is not a door". And a source close to the investigation in Paris said "no object or debris likely to come from a plane" had been placed into evidence on Sunday.
Police on the Indian Ocean island also collected on Sunday a mangled piece of metal inscribed with two Chinese characters and attached to what appears to be a leather-covered handle. Chinese internet users suggested it may be a kettle.
"People are more vigilant. They are going to think any metallic object they find on the beach is from flight MH370, but there are objects all along the coast, the ocean continually throws them up," said Jean-Yves Sambimanan, spokesman for the town of Saint-Andre where the wing debris was found.
He said islanders were also dumbfounded that after cursory helicopter flights the day after the wing part was found, no official search of the coastline is under way. "If it comes from a plane it would be a pity if I didn't take it" to police, said Luc Igounet, 62, who found the metal bar that turned out to be from a ladder.
'TREASURE HUNT' MENTALITY
The rush to find more debris showed the desperation for answers 16 months after MH370 disappeared on Mar 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. "There is a sort of 'treasure hunt' mentality that is taking hold and people are calling us for everything," said a local source close to the investigation.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said civil aviation authorities were reaching out to their counterparts in other Indian Ocean territories to be on the lookout for further debris that could provide "more clues to the missing aircraft."
He also confirmed that the wing part had been "officially identified" as from a Boeing 777 - making it virtually certain that it was from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Flight MH370 is the only Boeing 777 to ever be lost at sea.
The flight's mysterious disappearance, which saw it vanish off radars as a key transponder appeared to have been shut off, has baffled aviation experts and grieving families and given rise to a myriad conspiracy theories.
Speculation on the cause of the plane's disappearance has focused primarily on a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.
DEBRIS WON'T SOLVE MYSTERY
Scientists say it is plausible that ocean currents carried a piece of the wreckage as far as La Reunion. However Roland Triadec, a local oceanographer, said La Reunion represented only "a pinhead" in the Indian Ocean and the likelihood of other debris washing up there was low.
Authorities have warned that even if the debris confirmed to come from MH370 it is unlikely to completely clear up one of aviation's greatest puzzles. The mystery of what happened to the plane and where it went down exactly are still likely to persist unless the black box is found.
The flaperon will be examined in a lab near the French city of Toulouse that specialises in plane crash investigations.
Four Malaysian officials including the head of civil aviation are in Paris together with officials from Malaysia Airlines for a meeting on Monday with three French magistrates and an official from France's civil aviation investigating authority BEA.
Australian search authorities leading the hunt for the aircraft some 4,000 kilometres from La Reunion are confident the main debris field is in the current search area.
For the families of the victims, the discovery of the part has been yet another painful twist on an emotional rollercoaster. "It has been hurting for so long. We need the closure and all the evidence possible so that we can go ahead with our lives," said Nur Laila Ngah, the wife of the flight's chief steward Wan Swaid Wan Ismail.