A new mystery surrounding the baffling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which suddenly vanished during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing two years ago, arose this week when experts on marine biology said that newly discovered debris fragments possibly from the missing plane appeared to have been in the ocean only "a couple of weeks" before washing up on the shores of Mozambique.
In fact, one expert estimated that the debris had been in the ocean for only "a couple of days," raising new and puzzling questions about how the possible Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 debris — if indeed it came from the missing plane — got there in the first place.
I asked marine biologists how long they thought new-found MH370 debris had been in the water. You'll never guess... https://t.co/rXqF4DRwLTThe experts made their statements, based on their knowledge of how oceanic life forms grow on floating objects, to science journalist and aviation expert Jeff Wise, author of the book The Plane That Wasn't There: Why We Haven't Found Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and a frequent writer and commentator on the Flight MH370 case.
— Jeff Wise (@ManvBrain) March 17, 2016
The first and so far only confirmed piece of debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, missing since March 8, 2014, was discovered on July 29 of last year on the French-owned Reunion Island in the remote Indian Ocean, more than 2,500 miles from where the Australian-led official search team believes the plane crashed, after flying off course for about seven hours.
The following video news report contains further details about the discovery of the Reunion debris.
That piece of debris, pictured above as officials removed it from the Reunion Island beach where it was found, was identified as a flaperon — a segment of wing — from the Flight MH370 777. When it was discovered, it displayed a prolific growth of barnacles, which are aquatic organisms that attach themselves to objects and animals in the water.
A close-up photo of the barnacle growth on the flaperon is below.
Since last July, only two more pieces of debris have turned up that can be linked to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, both earlier this year, and both on the beaches of Mozambique, a country on the southeast coast of Africa.
Neither has yet been confirmed to have come from the missing plane — but experts believe that the objects were once part of a Boeing 777, of which only one in the world, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, is known to be unaccounted for.
Mozambique's coast is on the Indian Ocean, about 1,300 miles west of Reunion, with only the island nation of Madagascar between them.
The first newly discovered piece of possible Flight MH370 debris was found on February 27 by American tourist Blaine Gibson, and is thought to be a broken piece of the rear stabilizer on a 777-200. The second debris item was discovered on March 11 by vacationing South African teen, Liam Lötter, and appears to be a "flap fairing," another piece of aircraft wing.
But neither piece of debris shows much evidence of barnacles or other sea life — what marine biologists call "fouling" — as would be expected of objects in the water for nearly two years. The stabilizer fragment is pictured in close-up below.
And the following photo shows Lötter with his discovery.
"The pieces' appearance, however, is quite different from that of the first (and so far, only confirmed) piece of MH370, the plane's right-hand flaperon," wrote Wise on his blog on Thursday. "Every edge of the flaperon, and much of its broad surface area, was encrusted with goose barnacles of the genus Lepas. The flaperon also had been settled across much of its surface by a brownish algae. Both of the recently discovered pieces are relatively free of marine growth."
Wise consulted several marine biologists, all of whom expressed surprise that, at least based on their appearance in photographs, the new debris fragments were mostly clean.
James Carlton, director of the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, called the unsullied appearance of the debris pieces "a head scratcher" while Sam Chan of Oregon State University told Wise that the debris pieces looked as if they had been in the water no more than "a couple of weeks."
"It's certainly not indicative of something that has been in the water for multiple years, let alone even half a year." Chan told Wise. "If there's no fouling, was it even in the water?"
Carlton told Wise that his estimate of the time the debris was in the water, based on the photographs, would be no more than "a couple of days."
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Read the complete Jeff Wise report on what the marine life evidence, or lack of it, on the new debris discoveries might mean on the author's blog at this link.
While official investigators have yet to inspect the new debris, the lack of biological "fouling" on the fragments could create a whole new mystery. Namely, if Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 crashed into the waters of the Indian Ocean in March of 2014, but debris discovered in early 2016 had been on the water no more than a "a couple of weeks," or even days, where was it for the nearly two years in between?
[Featured Photo By Lucas Marie/Associated Press]