One of the world's most intriguing and tragic mysteries is a step closer to being solved.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced today that the airplane debris found on Reunion Island off the east coast of Africa are from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Debris from what appeared to be a large aircraft washed ashore on Reunion Island last week. The island, which belongs to France, is located in the western part of the Indian Ocean and is approximately 2,500 miles away from where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is believed to have disappeared.
The debris was sent to an aeronautic forensics facility in Toulouse, France where it was officially determined that they are remains from the flight.
The ill-fated airplane vanished on March 8th, 2014 after taking off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. On its way to Beijing, China, MH370 made its last contact to air traffic controllers less than an hour after departure. After the plane failed to make further contact and land in Beijing, authorities immediately considered the plane to be missing.
While the fate of its 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers is technically unknown, Malaysia Airlines announced a few weeks after the plane's disappearance that they are all presumed dead. The announcement followed the launch of an extensive maritime search conducted by several countries present in the Indian Ocean, including Malaysia, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The overall search effort has been led by Malaysia.
The multinational search is one of the largest and most expensive maritime search efforts in history. Tens of thousands of square miles of seafloor and water in the Indian Ocean has been searched using sonar equipment, airplane reconnaissance, naval vessels, satellite imagery, and a slew of advanced maritime technology. The search involved massive, round-the-clock surveillance by members of the multinational task force. Particularly daunting was an extensive bathymetric survey of part of the Indian Ocean conducted by China and Australia a few months after the disappearance.
More than 80,000 square feet of seafloor was charted for signs of the missing plane.
Unfortunately, the search yielded next to nothing. Although the search is still ongoing, the debris found on Reunion Island was the most significant lead authorities came across since the search began -- more than a year after the flight's disappearance. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Razak told reporters today that the debris has been "conclusively confirmed" to be part of the aircraft.
No word yet on whether authorities can use the debris to pinpoint a more accurate location of the rest of the plane and its contents, including the remains of its crewmembers and passengers and the highly coveted flight recorder or "black box."
Of those on board the flight, 152 were Chinese and 50 were Malaysian (including all 12 crewmembers). Other nationalities represented on the flight include Indian (five), French (four), and American (three).
The news of the debris, however, has not disrupted the search in the slightest. Malaysia and its search partners have pledged to continue their search for the rest of the plane and to determine what went wrong during the flight.