French Report: Investigators Can’t Link Reunion Flaperon to MH370

I am grateful to reader @AM2, who early this morning alerted us to a report in the French website stating that investigors who have been examining the flaperon found on Reunion have been unable to find any evidence linking it to MH370. Soon after, reader @Jay provided the translation below, which I’ve tweaked and edited using my high-school French and some online dictionaries. Thanks to both of you (and to Brock for his translation help)! Any corrections or suggestions from people who actually know the language would be very gratefully received.

MH370: At Balma, the Technical Investigation is Complete 

The Toulouse experts of the Directorate General of Armaments have finished the survey of the flaperon found on Reunion. Nothing permits it to be 100% certified as belonging to MH370!

In Balma, near Toulouse, technical analysis of of the wing flaperon believed to belong to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing has ended. The Toulouse engineers have submitted their findings to the Paris Prosecutor’s Office, which is in charge of the judicial inquiry. At the moment none of their observations have been leaked. “The investigation team headed by the French to consider the flaperon concluded the first phase of its inspection work,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) announced in Sydney.

Circumstantial evidence

“French authorities will, in consultation with Malaysia, report on progress in due course,” added the ATSB. Indeed, the judicial authorities remain silent and refuse to comment. According to our information, the experts have found no compelling technical element that would certify 100% that this piece belongs to flight MH370. “The expert conclusions are only the technical part of the criminal investigation, which is still going on,” so the case cannot be considered closed. For now all that is certain is that the flaperon, which was transferred from the island of Reunion to Toulouse on August 5, corresponds to a moving part of a wing of the Boeing 777. A representative of the American manufacturer Boeing quickly confirmed that after arriving at the site of the DGA Aeronautical Technical Center in Balma. If the deputy prosecutor of the Republic of Paris has stated that there was a “very strong supposition” that the piece belonged to the plane of flight MH370, which disappeared 18 months ago, that is based on circumstantial evidence.

First, the piece belongs to the aircraft model corresponding to that of Malaysia Airlines, a Boeing 777. In addition, no other aircraft of this type except that of the Malaysian company were reported missing.

Also, the trajectory of the wing piece that ran aground on a beach in Reunion matches the sea currents that link the search area of ​​the wreckage of the plane to the French overseas department. Finally, the shells found attached to the flaperon belong to a species endemic to the southern Indian Ocean where the unit is believed to have disappeared.

According to a Toulouse aeronautics expert who requested anonymity, the element of the wing would not have floated for several months at the water’s surface but would have drifted underwater a few meters deep. According to Jean-Paul Troadec, former chairman of the Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA), the state of flaperon, even if it is not intact, indicates that there was no violent impact with the ocean surface. “If this had been the case with the MH370, one would expect much smaller debris than a flaperon,” said the expert.


A couple of observations from me, JW:

  1. I find it odd that a piece of random debris would happen to have exactly neutral buoyancy, as floating for months just below the ocean surface would require. Unless it was tethered…
  2. Reader @Jay raises the question: “What about the maintenance seal that Malaysia claimed 100% linked the part to MH370?” Likewise, no mention is made of the discrepencies that Boeing and NTSB officials reportedly found between the flaperon and Malaysia Airlines maintenance records, according to the New York Times.  Hopefully the French will soon issue a report clearing up these issues.



258 thoughts on “French Report: Investigators Can’t Link Reunion Flaperon to MH370”

  1. Brock,

    The issue is not in % of wind speed, but in the wind itself. The former can be established experimentally, while wind fields at the sea level cannot be reconstructed sufficienly accurately. Same about ocean currents.

  2. @sinux
    your note about linguistic fuzziness of the case is interesting, because this is it all the time

  3. @Brock

    FWIW, I believe the signal analysts are wrong. There may be no need to invoke a compromise. That is one of the aspects of the Metron paper that annoyed me – the assumption that the ATSB/IG analytics are accepted as a concrete truth.

    What I think we now know:

    1> The plane ended up in the water somewhere near the 7th arc between Sumatra and the Southern limit of the fuel range.

    2> The sea state in the primary search area should have generated a lot of debris independent of the nature of the impact. A controlled ditch in that area is virtually impossible.

    3> No debris was found in the primary search area, and a lot of time was spent looking there.

    4> There is no plausible scenario which can place the plane in the primary search.

    5> A’priori drift models, both Sebille and CSIRO, show a lower likelihood that debris from the primary search area arrived at Reunion compared to debris which might originated much farther North.

  4. @ALSM

    My guess, and it is truly that, is that the French should be easily able to distinguish between flaperon damage caused by flutter and damage caused by an ocean impact. I would expect the stretching of metal associated with flutter damage to be fairly symmetrical with respect to the top and bottom of the flaeron. I would expect the damage from an ocean impact to show metal stretching at the bottom of the flaperon, and metal compressing at the top.

  5. Dennis,

    Re yours #4. Gysbreght’s idea explaining Bobby’s math is so far the most plausible scenario I have seen. I even somewhat lost interest to my “constant thrust” model ending at 99-100E, 28-29S.

  6. Sinux,

    Bonsoir Sinux. Please explain how you can be so sure the Toulousian investigator meant “vertical” in that description since you have never used “entre” to mean vertical? Is it a rule of thumb that the spoken “entre” always means horizontal and the written always means vertical? Un peu bizarre, non? Why then wouldn’t they have further described a top portion of the flaperon projected out of the “deux eaux” then? And how then did the coquillages, barnacles, etc. adhere to the non submerged portion? Tu trouveras?

  7. The Purported first identifiable debris (FID) was a flaperon – something that just happens to exist ONLY on a 777. It also had its serial is plate wash (?), corrode (?) or flutter (?) off. It also happened to have found a tiny pinpoint of land that permitted a dramatic shift in who was in charge of what. In light of these interesting coincidences, whether as scientists or as amateur sleuths, we should be approaching this item with skepticism.

    Here are the four possibilities:

    1) it was not the FID to make landfall – plane pieces lie strewn about shorelines, undetected for months (“remote shorelines” theory)

    2) it was the FID to make landfall because it was MORE affected by wind than any other debris (“windsurfing flaperon” theory)

    3) it was the FID to make landfall because it was LESS affected by wind than any other debris (“submerged flaperon” theory)

    4) it was the FID to make landfall because it was one of the ONLY items of debris generated (soft ditching)

    I have yet to read a convincing argument for any of them.

    PS I hate to continue to fuss over a translation of a paraphrasing of an anonymous aeronautical expert, but: opponents of Jeff’s consensus translation should also heed the sentence’s FIRST half: “would not have floated at the water’s surface for several months, but…”. Any acceptable translation of “entre deux…” must be sufficiently distinct from this description to explain why the author chose it as a clarifying foil.

  8. I think you missed it as he made his point….Quote: “In light of these interesting coincidences, whether as scientists or as amateur sleuths, we should be approaching this item with skepticism.”

  9. @Oleksandr

    you mean “But I should admit that Gysbreghts’ trivial explanation of the AP mode (i.e. “door locked by mistake”) gave a second chance for the AP hypothesis to stay on the table.”?

    While it is possible(and makes one think), there would be lot of debris none of which would float to Reunion and many which would float to Tasmania that has been searched extensively.

  10. A 5th point for Brock: the FID reaches the only island for hundreds of miles where investigation by authorities of an advanced country was guaranteed to take place. Wouldn’t the perps have preferred it to have reached,say, Mauritius or Madagascar where the investigations may not have been carried out so strictly?

  11. ABN397 – If it was a hoax the main thing you would need is for it to be seen/noticed by someone who will take it seriously. Reunion would have appeal possibly because it was specifically mentioned by oceanographers way back as a possible landing point for debris? In Madagaskar it might end up landfill? Even with the current ambiguity there is enough there for most people to hang their hats? Job done??

    But who would have been prepared to accommodate the idea a month ago that we might be in this position. 24 hours we were told…..

  12. It was assumed by all the ID plate would be right there – then it was brushed off when it wasn’t….

  13. @Brock
    I liked your serious/ semi-serious FID post. Here are a couple more suggestions:
    5) it was the FID to make landfall because it fell off the plane well before fuel exhaustion (and well North of the crash site) and was carried along by the South Java current and then into the Southern Equatorial current.(flutter? theory)
    6) it was the FID to make landfall for other (unknown) reasons (catch-all theory)

  14. Brock

    something that just happens to exist ONLY on a 777

    Flaperons (inboard ailerons) exist on all Boeing ‘heavies’ – the 747, 767 & 787 and also the L-1011. Can’t comment on MD-11.

  15. @Dennis,

    “I would expect the stretching of metal….”

    In fact there is very little “metal” in the flaperon. Certainly the top and bottom skins are a sandwich of CFRP with a Nomex honeycomb core. This is clearly visible in a number of the photos. It’s the honeycomb core which gives the flaperon its bouyancy. There is a wrap around fairing on the LE of aluminium. A crease is visible in this between the outboard end and the next inboard nose rib.

    The internal construction has not been made apparent yet, but photos show the rear spar is also CRFP, perhaps with a honeycomb core as well.

  16. @Dennis,

    The distinction is that CFRP with a honeycomb core will not “stretch” or “compress” like an aluminium skin.

    On the other hand, it will shear off raggedly if flexed sufficiently.

  17. @Flitzer

    Lauren’s post relative to China Air 006 was really good. It certainly supports Michael’s hypothesis relative to the edge damage. Of course, it also raises the possibility that the pilot managed to “save it” as in the case of China Air, and the flaperon was subsequently torn off the wing during a controlled ditch.

  18. DennisW Posted August 26, 2015 at 11:04 AM: “Lauren’s post relative to China Air 006 was really good. It certainly supports Michael’s hypothesis relative to the edge damage. ”

    Does it? As Jeff correctly observed, there was hardly any damage to the wing, just a few cracks to an outboard aileron. The NTSB report has not found any evidence of flutter, and states explicitly that all damage found was due to “aerodynamic overload”. Not surprising because the plane was pulled to 5 g more than once, and the whole wing was permanently bent upwards by several inches.

  19. @Gysbreght

    Right you are. On the other hand I don’t much care whether it was flutter or stress. The edge damage occurred without contacting water in the case of 006.

  20. For those of you have not seen it, there is a new story in France’s newspaper of record, Le Monde, regarding the investigation into the flaperon.

    The investigators have not been able to prove definitively that the flaperon is from MH370. The ID plate is missing and maintenance work recorded by MAS does not exactly match the part. (This is consistent with the information earlier leaked to the New York Times by sources close to Boeing and the NTSB.)

    One of the numbered parts is from a key subcontractor from Spain. It is possible this subcontractor can help trace the origin of the part. (Why has this not been done sooner, not withstanding European vacations in August?)

    So, the French investigators have produced a definite “maybe” as whether or not the flaperon if from MH370. This is not surprising, as most of us were hoping for, although not expecting, clarity.

  21. @Don: per NYT, July 31:

    “So there is a lot that can be done on what this is,” Mr. Dolan, the head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said in an interview. “If it is, as seems most probable, a very specific trailing-edge device, something on the back part of a wing, then it looks very much like a thing called a flaperon, and flaperons are only on 777 aircraft.”

    The basis for my “only on a 777” statement was the “fact” as presented by the “open government” we are meant to herald to the “free press” we are meant to trust.

    I assume you issued a similar public correction when this mistake (?) was made by Mr. Dolan?

  22. @Brock McEwen: Lighten up, please. Don corrected a false fact that you repeated. It is not up to Don to find the source of your false fact. Why not simply thank Don for the correction and attribute the mistake to Dolan?

  23. @DennisW: I really should have called it a false statement. In retrospect, I don’t like “false fact”, even if some may say it is proper.

  24. @Victor: point taken. I should give Don the benefit of the doubt, and assume he is as appalled as the rest of us at Mr. Dolan’s error, delivered into hundreds of microphones back when the flaperon’s news cycle was white hot, and the opportunity to cause uninformed minds to cement a connection between it and MH370 was greatest.

  25. Brock,

    Much detail concerning flaperons is lost on uninformed, and on supposedly informed, minds.

    The general media, even with its #avgeek & #paxex ‘experts’, is pretty much lost on this story, the details that matter are often too complex for them to interpret for the in-any-way-informed so the reports simply become gibberish.

  26. Lacking the technical acumen my search for motive is from a psychological direction, whether seemingly pertinent I cannot find either answers or confirmation for these questions and would appreciate any knowledge.

    Had Zahrie and Fariq flown together before and if so was this the 1st time alone without a teaching pilot (or check pilot?)?

    When a plane is on the ground between flights for 9 hours for routine maintenance, cleaning…is there a security check to make sure plane is vacated upon completion?

    Was the crew’s oxygen replenished that day from a pressure decay?

    Were the crew oxygen and the cockpit door lock controls in the E/E bay?

    Is it possible for a plane to recover from an inadvertent stall, if so can those only happen after takeoff or before landing at slow speeds?

    If this were possible, would this automatically reboot SATCOM?

    Would a pilot this experienced conceive of flying undeterred without comms for 6 hours?

  27. Susie Crowe,

    A lot of what you are asking has been addressed in many of Jeff’s articles and on Duncan Steel.

    As far as my knowledge goes Zaharie and Fariq had never flown together, did not request to fly together on MH370, and yes Fariq was on his first unsupervised flight, due to have a supervisor next time out.

    The crew’s oxygen was replaced March 7th.

    A stall I don’t believe is engine related and don’t think it would affect a satcom link. An engine restart could prompt a reboot, and techies please jump in and correct if wrong.

    We did request airport surveillance and activity on DS and a good question did all maintenance workers exit 9M-MRO and would that be on airport video surveillance?

    About the pilot or perp, he would consider the 6 hour no comms, transponderless flight if he was making a statement, would have no choice if at gunpoint, or no choice if dealing with some grand technical failure, however bear in mind along with that reboot comes the availability of satphones and no call was attempted from the cockpit after the 18:25 reboot.

  28. @Cheryl
    Thank you and sorry for the redundancy. I guess what I keep going for with the pilot predictability thing is IF the comms turnoff was deliberate, which is almost a given, would the planner have foreseen no intervention? Obviously an integral part would be flying without interference but yet the whole world seemed shocked this could happen so would it not have been a surprise to the perpetrators as well?

  29. @airlandseaman, Fantastic job, Mike. You write that “Reports from the field suggest the Flaperon floated in a flat orientation, probably upside down.” One could easily come to that conclusion from looking at pictures of the flaperon, but were there reports from sources to this effect? Anything you could direct us to, or was it private communication? Thanks. Jeff

  30. I have been following with interest the articles and comments on this website regarding MH370. I too have come to the conclusion that MH370 made a ‘soft landing’ in the SIO under the control of a conscious perpetrator(s) after the plane ran out fuel.

    However, I also believe the perpetrator(s) didn’t perish in the ocean but were picked up by a vessel and disappeared while the rest of the passengers and crew sank with the plane to the bottom of the sea.

    The perps may have floted in the sea for one or two days, while the world was searching for the plane in the S.China sea, but if they were equipped sufficiently, and trained well, this would not have been a problem.

    As to why the perpetrators did this, the motivation may have something to do with events on the other side of the world that were grabbing the headlines of the world’s media. The disappearance of MH370 distracted the world’s attention sufficiently enough.

  31. Victor,

    Thank you for the Le Monde article link. I gleaned as much from it as you did. It could be a yes, no, or maybe (peut-etre) outcome for identifying the flaperon with the French choosing the “maybe” as the choice at the moment, pending further clarification possibly from this Spanish sub-contractor or a parts specialist as stated by the French Boeing official. Also interesting it says that a Malaysian sat expert says that the overall body (taille) condition and shape suggests a water ditching and sinking in one piece (en un morceau). Let’s see what the Spanish plant says and if anything is further divulged about the mismatched maintenance records.

  32. Jeff: I’m not very good keeping track of the references. I’ve read that it probably floated top down in several places (news reports, not official). I think they came to this assessment by looking at the barnacle patterns, but not sure. Perhaps LGH or Don can provide a reference or two.

  33. @Don: I agree with everything you say in your last post. Just not sure how well it applies to Martin Dolan: the Commissioner of Australia’s Air Transport Safety Bureau, and the one man they sent to Toulouse to assist with the flaperon analysis.

    If anyone should know full well that identifying the Réunion debris as a flaperon did NOT in fact narrow the possibilities down to “only a 777”, you’d think it should be him. (It’s not like a reporter ambushed him outside his home – he’d have had time to thoroughly prep.) Yet he told us flat out that it DID – that was a direct quote I posted.

    But all this is a silly quibble. The broader point is that the entire flaperon story merits deep skepticism; which in turn supports the even broader point that the entire search for MH370 merits deep skepticism. If Dolan was telling the world inaccurate things about flaperons on July 31, that hardly dilutes the case.


  34. Susie Crowe,

    The search and rescue, in my opinion, should have commenced after those 17 minutes or so that KLATC and HCMATC were playing ping pong back and forth. Two flights were asked to contact MH370, MH88 and another one mentioned in the Preliminary Report. Right there is where MAS dropped the ball. They should have done something, wake up RMAF, or something because ergo there was a big red flag at that point that one of your aircraft is not responding and not where it is supposed to be and all comms to it are lost. The SAR should have been executed during the traversing of Malaysia, but ergo again, they either let it slide or missed it entirely, a huge embarrassment either way.

  35. @cheryl
    exactly – as I checked FI pages 295-395 (air-ground comm) again now + also 395-558 (direct line comms), here is my personal short review:

    17:40 – 18:40 UTC
    + HCMATC was calling by radio MH370 many times on many frequencies for 20 minutes (page 432,433)
    + ATCs seems dont know how to call MH370 [using satcom] (they dont know their NUMBER??), so asking for MAS to call them (MAS quite passive still) (page 459)
    MAS distracting ATCs about possible Cambodia(???) and Vietnam airspace (by fligtplan track only – it is transmitted by plane ADS ??)
    MAS ensuring with the ATCs that the plane was lost
    MAS ringing into cocpit ONCE, not using emergency priority
    MAS itself not urging for SAR, nor RMAF action immediatelly when plane missed from radar while still flying (“confirmed/known” by them)
    – now as possibly dangerous “stealth cruising missile” in fact
    (SAR was most loudly forced by KLATC to HCMATC in fact)

    19:00 – 23:00 UTC
    MAS in fact only checking what all was seen by radars, what ATCs know about the lost plane
    SINGAPORE ATC ensuring with the KLATC that the plane was lost and what was seen on radars and what is known (pages up to 555)

    There is no word about 2nd SATCOM call by MAS(??) to plane at 23:13 UTC.

  36. or precisely, there can be found on page 72 “23:13” mentioned in relation to unansvered call, but only because they both caused reset of Perth GES inactivity timer

  37. @Cheryl
    Belaboring a point here….IF the perpetrator(s) had a plan it would have been executed expecting a far different outcome than flying without disturbance for over 6 hours. This may be irrelevant but have yet to see it discussed, the plan must have expected interference from other aircraft so what was the planned reaction for that?

  38. @Susie Crowe, Why would they have assumed that? If they were very familiar with the Malaysian military then they might well have predicted that the air defense system would have been unable or discinclined to challenge an unknown aircraft traveling through its airspace.

  39. @Cheryl
    Belaboring a point here…IF the perpetrator(s) had a plan it should have presumed intervention of other aircraft and some point and not the ability to fly uninterrupted for over 6 hours as protocol would dictate a far different scenario than what occurred. I have yet to see a scenario that factors in how the perp(s) planned to react to this as it should have been anticipated. It may be irrelevant but I think it’s actually very relevant

  40. @jeffwise
    Oooops, I really AM belaboring, excuse the double post. My point exactly Jeff, if that was anticipated, and it would have to be by someone VERY familiar with various countries abilities, then that narrows then field quite a bit

  41. @jeffwise
    One more addition to this “left field” theoretical and I’m finished. What if the intent was to use MH370 as a (as fallken stated) “stealth cruising middle” for a target whose mission had to be aborted and ditching in the SIO was the only alternative? It terrorist related it would explain why no credit was claimed as it was not successful

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