CANBERRA, Australia — The discovery of a piece of aircraft wing on an island in the western Indian Ocean is unlikely to alter the seabed search for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner in the southern Indian Ocean, the search leader said Thursday.
Air safety investigators are examining aircraft debris found on Reunion Island just off Madagascar to see if it is part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared on March 8 last year.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who heads the seabed search, said searchers' drift modelling indicated that debris could have floated to the island from where they believed the missing plane crashed 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) southwest of Australia.
So if the find proved to be part of the missing aircraft, it would still be consistent with the theory that the plane crashed within the 120,000 square kilometer (46,000 square mile) search area.
"It doesn't rule out our current search area if this were associated with MH370," Dolan told The Associated Press. "It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island."
"It's unlikely to change the search plans. It would give us confirmation that there is an aircraft definitely in the Indian Ocean," he said.
Dolan said search resources would be better spent continuing the seabed search with sonar and video for wreckage rather than reviving a surface search for debris if the find proved to be from Flight 370.
Confirmation that the wing part was the first trace of Flight 370 ever found would finally disprove theories that the airliner might have disappeared in the northern hemisphere," he said.
The seabed search jointly funded by Australia and Malaysia has so far search 55,000 square kilometers (21,000 square miles) of remote seabed.
Dolan said he had seen detailed photographs of the find and "it certainly looks like an aerofoil from a large aircraft."
Flight 370 vanished with 239 people on board while traveling from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing.