Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Wing Flap Found In Tanzania May Hold Key To Mystery Of Missing Plane's Fate

A piece of aircraft wing that experts say is "highly likely" to be part of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of what actually happened to the Boeing 777-200, which disappeared in the midst of a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

The large wing fragment was discovered on Pemba Island, about 30 miles off the coast of Tanzania in late June. The debris was shipped to Australia, where the Australian Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the official investigation into the fate of Flight MH370, is currently examining the wing fragment.

"It is highly likely that the latest piece of debris being analyzed is from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370," Australia's Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester said on July 30. "The experts will continue to analyze this piece to assess what information can be determined from it."

But according to a report on Friday in the Wall Street Journal, the condition of the wing flap could help resolve what has become a heated controversy in recent weeks over what happened to the Malaysia Airlines plane after it cut off all communication with the ground, took a hard turn to the west, then — after another hard turn southward — flew for hours until it went down in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean.

The official stance of the ATSB-led investigation has been that MH370 became a "ghost flight," with the 239 passengers and crew members likely incapacitated and the plane cruising on automatic pilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed violently — slamming into the water at a speed of about 230 miles per hour, ending a "death dive" from as high as 35,000 feet.

Critics of the ATSB position point to evidence that they say indicates the opposite — that, in fact, the plane was under human control the whole time, most likely with pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah still flying the plane, and that the 777 was deliberately ditched into the ocean.

To access earlier Inquisitr coverage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 controversy, see the "Previous Stories" box below on this page.

The "rogue pilot" viewpoint sprang into headlines with a report by the Australian edition of the television news program 60 Minutes, which aired in July. Watch that full report, in two parts, in the videos below.

Careful examination of damage to the wing piece — the main wing flap of the plane — should yield decisive clues to resolve the "ghost plane vs. rogue pilot" dispute, according to the Journal, because the wing flap cannot be deployed automatically.

Therefore, if the pattern of damage shows that the flap was deployed — that is, angled downward — when the plane hit the water, a pilot must have been in control of the plane at that time.

"It has to be deployed by a human, from the cockpit, and you have to have hydraulic power to do so," ATSB search director Peter Foley told the Wall Street Journal. "The good thing about engineering is that it's generally pretty conclusive, it's either one way or it's not that way. The evidence points you in a direction."

The controversy was also propelled by an investigative report by American journalist Jeff Wise, who reported in a New York Magazine article that Malaysia Airlines pilot Shah had rehearsed a "deviant" flight similar to the bizarre route taken by Flight MH370 on a private flight simulator that he kept in his home.

Officials have since confirmed that Wise's revelations were correct — Shah did indeed program a strange route into his home flight simulator, one that terminated in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean. But they also added that the simulated flight route was not proof that Shah was actually responsible for deliberately flying the Malaysia Airlines 777 to its doom.

"There is no evidence to prove that Captain Zaharie flew the plane into the southern Indian Ocean." Malaysia Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai's said last week. "Yes, there is the simulator but the (route) was one of thousands to many parts of the world. We cannot just base on that to confirm (that Shah did it)."

As a result, the official investigators have stuck to their "ghost plane" or "death dive" theory of how Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 came to an end. At least, they seem to be sticking to it.

Or are they?

According to reports in the Australian media, just last week, the ATSB removed the claim that the ghost plane theory was their consensus from the agency's official website.

The deletion does not mean that the ATSB has rejected its "death dive" theory, said independent investigator Richard Godfrey, who is not affiliated with the ATSB. But it could possibly mean that opinion within the official team of investigators has shifted.

"Another possibility is that it was assumed there was a consensus, but then some party complained and the published report had to be changed," Godfrey said.

According to an analysis by Jeff Wise published on his blog on Friday, if Flight MH370 ended in a "death dive" under the ATSB scenario, the wreckage of the plane would have certainly ended up in the "Seventh Arc" area, where searchers have been combing the ocean floor since September of 2014.

"Indeed, it would have been found long ago, quite close to the Seventh Arc," Wise wrote. "So we know that the plane didn't plummet unpiloted into the sea."


However, Wise also rejects the idea at the center of the 60 Minutes report that the pilot of Flight MH370 glided the 777 gently onto the water's surface, much like the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight in which a pilot was forced to land a 2009 USAir commuter flight on the Hudson River in New York. Investigators now hope that the wing flap found in Tanzania will provide more conclusive answers about what happened in the final moments of the mysterious Malaysia Airlines flight more than 29 months ago.

[Image via Australian Transportation Safety Bureau]