air crashes

Mar 23, 2016

Few doubts about latest MH370 fragment found in South Africa

Almost out of frame given the terrible news about the Brussels attacks a fragment of a Rolls-Royce 777 engine cowling identical to those that were on missing flight MH370 has been f

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Social media image of the internal structure of the part found on a South African beach
Social media image of the internal structure of the part found on a South African beach

Almost out of frame given the terrible news about the Brussels attacks a fragment of a Rolls-Royce 777 engine cowling identical to those that were on missing flight MH370 has been found on a South African beach.

Malaysian authorities are immediately sending a team to South Africa to examine and repatriate the object which shows part of a Rolls-Royce logo on its external surface and a honeycomb structure within which bears obvious similarities to the two objects from Mozambique which are now under examination in Australia by the ATSB.

If these three objects are from MH370, and the South African find makes that seem highly likely, the weathered state of the composite material in them shows a common degree of resilience when it comes to hosting marine life compared to the heavily encrusted alloy surface of an MH370 flaperon found on the French island of La Réunion last July.

The flaperon was identified as coming from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER , which vanished on 8 March 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.

Duncan Steel, a member of the Independent Group of scientists who have been auditing and analysing the released information about MH370 and the conduct and assumptions of the Australian led sea floor search for wreckage, says the lack of large barnacles on these items would have allowed them to drift further from the point of impact in the south Indian Ocean than the flaperon.

The image below shows what appears to be an access panel from the right hand side of the 777’s wing on a Mozambique shore last December for comparison with the latest find shown at the top of the post.

The slightly contaminated Liam Lotter find from Mozambique
The slightly contaminated Liam Lotter find from Mozambique


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13 thoughts on “Few doubts about latest MH370 fragment found in South Africa

  1. Glen

    So it appears that Mr Wise may be completely wrong, again. At what point will we stop listening?

  2. Ben Sandilands

    I was more than ready to consider the opinions of those he canvassed, and had been trying to nail down some Australian researchers in marine growth for the same reason, as had some other media who contacted me to try and share leads on where the talent might be found.

    Those opinions were however most likely wrong, and the weak point was not being in a room, with the objects, and being able to determine just what their condition was, picking up traces of marine growth that were in fact present, and assessing the different chemistry of marine life engagement with some composite materials and the coatings placed on them to prevent internal biological contamination.

  3. ghostwhowalksnz

    Its useful to remember the first ideas about honeycomb core within a laminate for aircraft skin came from Hugo Junkers in 1915. He was thinking about a canvas replacement but he moved on to open corrugated skin. Of course cardboard and paper honeycombs for beehives had been in use for nearly 40 years.
    Im wondering if the carbon fibre skin which uses a phenol resin acts as a marine growth inhibitor, and as Ben mentions the metal honeycomb structure may have an anti-microbial coatings

  4. comet

    It’s possible that the fragments travelled very different paths before hitting the coast.

    Some pieces might have travelled north through warmer waters, producing a different profile of marine growth to those that travelled south.

  5. JH 1969

    Ben, an observation for the conspiracy theorists.

    Of all the cleanskin real estate that makes up a large aircraft, it seems to be quite fortuitous that these parts washing up in Africa all contain some form of labelling to indicate they are from MH370.

  6. Steve Barrett


    Thank you for these recent excellent articles on MH370. The discussion has been very interesting.

    One question from an earlier thread I had about the report on the flaperon has been answered….the French Prosecutor’s Office is still working on it. This is acceptable. Though the secrecy around all of this has the feel more of a criminal rather than civil proceeding. Comment on these Crikey pages has been made that the flaperon should have been forwarded to Malaysia for analysis. Legally this may be correct however the French possibly want some answers rather than the Malaysians desperately is seems trying to write it off as an accident and asking for everyone to please forget about it. Of course what happened to 9M-MRO may well be an accident but we need more evidence please. Also the French may have expertise from AF447, in particular the effect on aircraft aluminium when it hits sea water at 280km/h (Wikipedia).

    I have read the reports by Jeff Wise on marine biofouling. These seem well considered and referenced though it seems the honeycomb structure may not support growth in the same way as the flaperon. His earlier unrelated hypothesis that 9M-MRO landed at Kazakhstan seems a little far fetched though. However much earlier he presented a theory that 9M-MRO landed at Banda Aceh which was discussed in Crikey August 2014 from memory. A further reference around the time in the Daily Beast (Clive Irving) and I quote “Another report, called in to the FAA and passed by them to the FBI alleged to have evidence that the 777 had landed at Banda Aceh on the northwestern tip of Indonesia where it was taken to a mysterious hangar and all the passengers and crew executed”. I accept (as did Clive Irving) that this is the stuff of fantasy but the role of Indonesia in helping us to understand what happened to 9M-MRO may be helpful. Most of the southerly trajectories would have travelled through Indonesian airspace.

    However my understanding is that Indonesia denied detecting anything on radar. Or as seems to a consistent theme here – no comment (which can mean anything).

    The main problem with the Jeff Wise landing conspiracy theories is the BTO/BFO data and the accumulating plane wreckage. However as Simon Gunson points out there are some issues with this data set as from it there is evidence of 9M-MRO travelling at supersonic speeds at times. Also we await reports on the wreckage.

    Sir Tim Clark (Emirates) said some time ago someone or some group of people knows what happened to 9M-MRO. The question is who.

  7. Tango

    And I too have to admit its looking like I was wrong.

    I will of course stand by, I too am suspicious of the parts ID showing up so often.

    If it is pieces, I would guess its more along the line of Ghost than route. While Alaska debris is not barnacled, it always shows bio crud of one sort or another, even if its dried and died.

    Need to relook at the drift maps but also water temp is important. Gulf of Ak may be warmer than the South latitude as it comes up from Japan.

    Wait and see what comes of it.

  8. Dan Dair

    “I too am suspicious of the parts ID showing up so often”

    Statistically speaking, once one (genuine) part shows up, you’d expect that more & more would start to arrive.

    Secondarily, as it becomes bigger news in the areas where you’d expect debris to make landfall, more people will be aware of the possibility of a discovery & will pay more attention to debris on the shore. (Hence the stuff that was found that turned-out not to be aircraft debris)

    The investigators are either going to have to strike very lucky or they’ll need a hell of a lot more parts before they get any kind of indication about what might have happened to 9M-MRO.
    The only thing we can make a reasonable speculation about at this stage is that the aircraft hit hard & broke up into mostly small pieces, which would be consistent with the flaperon detaching due to overspeed flutter.

    As I said, that’s just speculation, actually finding the bulk of the wreckage is still the real goal.
    All we can say for pretty certain from these parts is that the airframe probably isn’t buried in Kazakhstan.!!!

  9. comet

    Look at that honeycomb structure in the picture.

    Can you imagine how many insect eggs are infested in there?

    I can picture the Australian customs officials standing in a line with their insecticide spray guns held in the extended shooting position, ready to fire as soon as the plastic wrap is removed.

  10. malcolmdbmunro

    Your headline, Ben, “Are these MH370 parts coming clean, or unstuck?” March 19, 2016, has several layers of ambiguity intended or otherwise which had me bemused. Between the lines …

    There are sure to be those who wonder, as I do if we are looking at airplane debris which shows destruction by sea impact or some other kind of force. There are surely those who are familiar with the difference between explosive destruction and ocean surface impact. Any comments?

  11. ghostwhowalksnz

    malcolm, parts of a plane near to where a explosive device went off would have some signs, but it would require quite a lot of pieces. This was the case for the Lockerby bombing( or the MH17 shootdown) where the fuselage was partly built in a hangar and the area of the bomb explosion was clearly seen from outward tearing. Clearly the rest of the plane pieces would just show in air breakup or impact with ground.
    One piece or two recovered from the sea or beach might be impossible to assume it was an onboard explosion. And as the plane flew for some time away from its intended route that has to further discount an explosion as the core problem. The US global infra red satellite system picks up even quite small explosions like those of the russian airliner in Sinai, but it hasnt been linked to any evidence of explosion from MH370.

  12. michael r james

    [Of all the cleanskin real estate that makes up a large aircraft, it seems to be quite fortuitous that these parts washing up in Africa all contain some form of labelling to indicate they are from MH370.]

    Ascertainment bias. Of all the debris washing up on African beaches the stuff with ID is perhaps finally being considered significant. There might be a lot more (without id) lying around.

    I can’t remember if there has been a generalised call in the eastern Indian ocean for such debris, or any reward offered?

  13. Dan Dair

    To the best of my knowledge, none of either Boeing, the ATSB & the Malaysian investigative authorities, have made any moves towards offering any form of rewards for debris retrieved.

    Nor have they even issued any kind of ‘formal’ requests for the countries most likely to have debris make landfall upon their shores,
    to organise search groups, or make those already working on & around the shoreline more aware of the search for aircraft debris.?

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