A fragment of the wing of a Boeing 777 has washed up on Reunion Island 580 miles southeast of Madagascar. The part, a wing element called a flaperon, was found thousands of miles from where Indonesian Airlines Flight 370 was believed to have crashed in the ocean after disappearing on March 18, 2014. But is this enough to determine whether or not it is from that airplane, and if so, if the plane did indeed crash? As yet, while there is high confidence that the part is from a 777, there is no certain evidence that it’s from Flight 370. A data tag including the plane’s serial number is placed on every part of every airplane currently manufactured, but at present it appears that this data tag has been removed from this part, and what appear to be elements of a serial number do not match that of Flight 370.

The flaperon has been flown to a lab in Toulouse, France for further examination, where it is probable that a definite determination will be made. It is possible for modern jets to continue to fly with a detached flaperon, but loss of one would be considered a flight control failure and if the aircraft involved was registered in the US or a large number of other countries, would require that an incident report be filed, so if the flaperon is from another plane, it is possible that such a report can be found. A flaperon is one part likely to be detached in a controlled ditching because when extended it would impact the water at an extreme angle, and the damage along the trailing edge of the flaperon just discovered is consistent with this type of damage.

Given that a fragment of what appears to be luggage, a Chinese water bottle and an Indonesian cleaning fluid bottle have also washed up on Reunion, it is anticipated that there will be an additional search of the island’s beaches and the surrounding waters, in hope of finding more remains. Judging from the spread of the debris, the beaches of Mauritius and Rodrigues Islands should also be investigated.

During World War II, it was common practice for submarines under attack to eject debris and other materials, including even corpses, in an effort to deceive attackers into believe that the sub had been destroyed. Until and if more substantial debris is found and definitely identified as being from MH-370, the question of what happened to the plane will remain an open one, but the damage pattern on the flaperon is suggestive not of a part that detached in the air or was dropped into the water in an effort at deception, but with an attempted water landing. Such landings are extremely difficult with large aircraft, and next to impossible at night.

To complicate matters, a volcano has just erupted on Reunion, which could affect search efforts.

The image depicts a Boeing 777 flaperon in extended position.