France Expands Search for MH 370 Debris at Malaysia’s Request

By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah and Trinna Leong | August 7, 2015

The French government has responded to a request from Malaysia for more help in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. France said it would send planes, boats and helicopters to scour the coast of the remote Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where debris have washed up.

Investigators collected a piece of a wing that Malaysia has said came from MH370, the first real clue in one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

MH370, a Boeing 777, disappeared in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them Chinese.

A piece of wing known as a flaperon was found on a Reunion beach last week. Malaysia said on Thursday paint color and a maintenance seal were matches for MH370, the first piece of direct evidence that it had crashed in the sea.

The barnacle-covered piece of wing debris was flown to mainland France for investigation. Reunion is about 3,700 km (2,300 miles) west of the primary search area off the southwest coast of Australia.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said he would seek expert advice before asking Australia, which is leading the underwater search, to modify its efforts.

France said on Friday it was ramping up its search off the coast of Reunion after additional debris, including a plane window and aluminum foil, were found.

However, none of the new debris appeared to have come from MH370, a spokesman for Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said.

The French decision to devote additional planes, helicopters, patrol boats and personnel to the area came as Malaysia also appealed to the governments of Mauritius and Madagascar, near Reunion, to help widen the search area.

The discovery of the flaperon sparked anger and skepticism among grieving Chinese families who want clearer answers and have accused Malaysia of withholding information.

On Friday, about 50 family members staged a noisy protest near the Malaysian embassy in Beijing. They scuffled briefly with police who stopped them from entering a road leading to the embassy.

“Malaysia, find the passengers,” the protesters chanted. Some carried signs that said: “Malaysia hides the truth, Malaysia delays the search.”

Liow said he understood family members wanted answers about what happened to the passengers on board. “They’re anxious, and we’re also looking for answers,” he told Reuters.

An initial search of a 60,000 sq. km (23,000 sq. miles) patch of sea floor has been extended to another 60,000 sq. km but Australia has not been asked to extend its search area, Truss’ spokesman said. Canberra had no plans to do so based on models of drift patterns any debris might have taken.

Brian Alexander, a lawyer with U.S. firm Kreindler & Kreindler LLC, which represents 48 families of MH370 passengers from around the world, said the flaperon alone would be unlikely to present enough evidence to inform a legal case about the cause of the crash.

“If they recover additional pieces and additional evidence, there could be a different dynamic from the legal perspective concerning airline manufacturers,” Alexander said.

(Additional reporting by Cecile Lefort, Jane Wardell and Matt Siegel in SYDNEY, Tim Hepher in PARIS, Siva Govindasamy in SINGAPORE, Praveen Menon in KUALA LUMPUR and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait)

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