WASHINGTON (AP) — Debris that washed up in Mozambique has been tentatively identified as a part from the same type of aircraft as the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
Photos of the debris discovered over the weekend appear to show the fixed leading edge of the right-hand tail section of a Boeing 777, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. MH-370, which disappeared two years ago with 239 people aboard, is the only known missing 777.
People who have handled the part, called a horizontal stabilizer, say it appears to be made of fiberglass composite on the outside, with aluminum honeycombing on the inside, the official said. The part is being transported to Malaysia.
Mozambique's National Director of Civil Aviation Joao Abreu dismissed the report, saying authorities have found no part of the missing plane. But Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai tweeted about the discovery.
"Based on early reports, high possibility debris found in Mozambique belongs to a B777," Liow said in a series of tweets.
"It is yet to be confirmed & verified. @dca_malaysia working w Australian counterparts to retrieve the debris." He also urged "everyone to avoid undue speculation as we are not able to conclude that the debris belongs to #mh370 at this time."
MH-370 disappeared on March 8, 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 12 crew members and 227 passengers on board.
Radar data show the plane turned sharply around as it approached Vietnamese airspace, and then flew back across the Malay Peninsula until contact was lost off the coast of Thailand.
Authorities who scrutinized data exchanged between the plane's engine and a satellite determined that the jetliner continued on a straight path across the Indian Ocean, leading them to believe that the plane flew on autopilot for hours before running out of fuel and crashing into the water
Despite an exhaustive search of the ocean west of Australia, where the plane is believed to have crashed, the only confirmed trace of the aircraft has been a wing part known as flaperon that washed ashore last July on the French island of Reunion off the east coast of Africa — about 2,300 miles from the current search area.
The flaperon bore a stenciled internal marking "657 BB," which is consistent with a flaperon from a Boeing 777.
Nothing of the passengers, their luggage or even things designed to float, such as life jackets, has been discovered despite the largest and most expensive search in aviation history.
Australia has led the multinational search effort, which also includes the Malaysian and Chinese governments.
Authorities have long 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.
With authorities unable to find the plane and its "black box" flight data and cockpit voice recorders, investigators are no closer than they were two years ago to discovering the cause MH370's disappearance. There are many theories, including that a rogue pilot deliberately caused the $250 million jet to vanish, but little hard evidence.
With the search tentatively scheduled to wrap up later this year, MH370 may become one of aviation's great unsolved mysteries.
In the aftermath of the plane's disappearance, the airline industry and aviation authorities around the world pledged to find ways to better track airliners, especially over expanses of ocean where there's no radar coverage.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. aviation-standards agency, has adopted a requirement that all airliners report their positions about every 15 minutes over open ocean. The standard goes into effect in November 2018.
Currently, pilots flying planes over open ocean report their positions about every 30 minutes. In the most remote areas, even that is not possible.
Complicating the search for MH-370, the plane's "black box" data recorder was equipped with an underwater locator beacon whose battery is designed to last only 30 days. ICAO had adopted a new standard before the accident requiring the beacons to last at least 90 days, but the standard doesn't go into effect until 2018.