Some new information about suspected MH370 debris found in Africa:
1) Last month I wrote about a photograph taken of the “Rolls Royce” fragment three months before it was discovered by Neels Kruger and turned over to the authorities. This double discovery struck me as such a remarkable coincidence that I reached out to the man who took the photograph, Schalk Lückhoff, a 73-year-old retired doctor who lives about an hour away from the discovery site. I was fortunate enough to catch Dr Lückhoff just before he left on a monthlong photo safari to Kruger National Park. At the start of the interview I was under the impression that Neels Kruger found the piece the second time at Mossel Bay, 10 km from the Klein Brak River, but as Dr Lückhoff makes clear, this is not the case; Kruger also found the piece at at the mouth of Klein Brak river, about 250 m from where Lückhoff had photographed it. (Klein Brak is within the Mossel Bay municipality, hence the confusion.) Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
SL: I belong to a local photographic club… and I was on my way to photograph fast-flowing water as the lagoon was emptying into the sea, and this was early morning, in fact I saw on my picture the exact time I took it was twenty minutes past seven on the 23rd of December. And I was the first one on the beach and I walked toward the river, and there was this clean piece of beach where no one had walked and I saw this object lying in the middle of it, and I just thought, well, it was probably just an old notice board or something, so I just took a picture in passing and I went on because I was in a hurry to get to the river, you see. And then when I came back later in the day it was gone, but by then there has been a high tide as well and I now, in retrospect I thought that this high tide pushed it into the river, the lagoon, or there’s also lots of holidaymakers that time of year, somebody might have picked it up and carried it into the lagoon, I don’t know… And then what happend was I never paid attention to this because I didn’t recognize it for what it was, as I say I was more interested in the pictures I was going to take, and the result was that about three months later there was a news thingy with the piece that Neels Kruger picked up [specifically, an article by Eugene Gunning in the Afrikaans-language Netwerk 24], and looking at this I thought, ‘This looks very familiar,’ and I went through, went back and looked through my pictures, and I found it there full of barnacles. And that’s the story.
JW: So then you reached out to Eugene Gunning?
SL: Yes, in fact I didn’t know who to contact because I immediately realized this might be important puzzle, or a piece in the puzzle, you see, so I contacted Eugene and he put me on to Neels, and very interesting chat about it, and he put me onto the Australian, what’s it, Transport Safety…
SL: And I contacted them and sent them one of my pictures and they took it from there. They said to me that this was rather important, because it actually puts the date of actually three months earlier, because Neels only found it three months after I did. And what puzzled them was why there were no any marine life on this one, and of course I could explain that, because there’s a whole host of seabirds that nests on the banks of that river every night, I’m sure they must have picked it clean.
SL: What’s your interest in this?
JW: I’ve been covering this for two years now, and of course for a long time we wondered why aren’t there any pieces of this mysterious plane, and then they started to turn up, and like the Australians I wondered, how come it’s so clean? Because there was one that washed up on Reunion Island that had all kinds of barnacles on it. Some people had speculated that some kind of creature might have picked it clean, but when your photograph came out, that was just very powerful evidence that that must have been exactly what happened.
JW: How do you think it wound up — you found it at this place, Klein Brak, and then it wound up in I guess, Mossel Bay is 15 km way or something?
SL: Yes, Mossel bay is about 10 km further on. You know, originally I said to Joe in Australia, I said to him that I was, when I walked past there the next day, this thing wasn’t there anymore, and I just gathered that it went back into the sea. And then when Neels picked this thing up, I said, “But it’s highly impossible that anything like that washing back into the sea, with the wind and all the sea currents and stuff around that area, would wash up in exactly the same spot three months later. What are the chances of that? It’s literally zero.” So my deduction was that this thing was washed up in the lagoon and the sandbanks in this lagoon changes all the time, and so does the dunes around there, from the prevailing southeasterly wind in summer, which blows everything up the river, you know, if it floats it will obviously move up into the lagoon, and that’s what I thought. It’s the most logical thing that it could have been in the same area three months later.
JW: So how do you reconcile the seemingly impossible thing? You would expect that the wind would blow it up into the lagoon, but instead it somehow seems to have washed back out into the sea, and gotten—I don’t know, how does it wind up where Neels found it?
SL: In retrospect I doubt whether it washed back into the sea. It was just my original impression, because it wasn’t there after the next high tide. I didn’t go up along, I had no reason to walk up the riverside at the time, and this thing was lying right at the river’s mouth, on the east of the side of the river, just at the mouth where the sea washed it up. During the course of the day, it was midsummer, it was our holiday season and that whole area there are hundreds of holidaymakers bathing in the sun and sitting there, kids playing in the river and the lagoon and so on, so it’s not impossible that anyone might have picked it up and even carried it up higher into the river, I don’t know. I can only speculate. But all I can say is, I think the chances that it washed out to sea and then came back three months later is impossible. So the only chance is that this thing somehow, either by human hand or by wind and water and what have you, ended up in the deeper part of the lagoon, and probably floated around there until it beached where Neels eventually found it. But who knows, you can only speculate on it.
JW: I quickly glanced at a map the other day. Where Neels found it wasn’t near the lagoon was it?
SL: It was on the bank, in fact it was exactly, we had to pinpoint it on Google and we measured it, it’s about 250 meters north of where I saw it the first time. And it was actually lying next to some washed up logs there on the edge of the sand. But now if you look at your Google Maps, it looks different from what it looks like now, or what it looked like in December, because that river, as the tide goes in and out, the sandbanks alters all the time. So you can’t—I’ve got a picture of exactly what things were like at that time in December. All I know is that there were lots of holidaymakers in that area every day. This thing might have drifted up in the river with the next high tide, and perhaps helped by the wind which blows upriver, and it might have beached somewhere and got covered in sand by kids playing or whatever and when the beach changed again, we’ve recently had a fair amount of rain in January and February, and often that river comes down and brings lots of logs and all sorts of stuff down. It might have washed open again. As I say, one can only speculate.
JW: I misunderstood, I thought he found it 10 km away.
SL: No, no, no, no! Actually, he gave me the spot on Google Maps and also the, he told me where to look, there’s a big log that’s lying there on the riverbank which has been lying there for more than a year now, since the last big flood we had, and he picked it up just next to that. I actually walked the distance the other day to go and pinpoint the area.
JW: So people were saying Mossel Bay but they really meant Klein Brak.
SL: Yes, it’s all in Klein Brak, in fact where he found it is about 250 meters from where I saw it.
JW: Did you only take the one picture at the time?
SL: You know what happened is, at the time I actually took two pictures, and some time in January my picture library became so big that I started removing some duplicates, and in fact I now realize that the other one was removed at that time. But what I did was, I had two and I just left the better one. You couldn’t really choose between them because they were taken at the same time and with the same camera.
JW: Same angle and everything?
SL: So this was the better picture… It’s such a coincidence, if I didn’t pick up that newspaper article, I wouldn’t even have known that I had the picture.
2) It occurred to me that the Lückhoff photograph would provide an important data-point for reverse-drift models, so I reached out to the GEOMAR institute in Germany, whose work I’ve described previously. I asked “Is your team looking at updating its findings in light of this new data, which provide a much narrower time window for the arrival of this debris?” I received the reply, “Such an endeavour will require a significant amount of time and effort in terms of the coordination and analysis. Given the lack of response from the Australian search authorities, and the still large uncertainty concerning the beaching of the debris, we do not intend on refining our analysis further at this stage.”
3) In another amazing coincidence, it turns out that Hong Kong-based aviation journalist Florence de Changy, who has made many important contributions toward solving the mystery of MH370, has a son who went to university in Canada with a young man whose brother found the most recent piece of debris in Mozambique. He wrote to Florence:
The piece was found right by a lodge called Cristina’s Lodge located on the Macaneta Peninsula on Sunday, 22nd of May, 2016. The piece was roughly 1 x 1.5 meters and about 15 cm thick. It did not have any metal on it and had the honeycomb inside. Hence, it was not very heavy and could be easily carried by one person. It did not look necessarily old and seemed as though it had only been on the beach for less than a week. The first time we found it (22/05/2016) it was at the high water line and it was fully exposed. It was found when it was low tide. We initially left the piece there but when we came back on the 28th of May, it was pushed a little higher up the beach by the ocean. It was not very noticeable and my mother found it when she was looking for drift wood along the beach. I got into contact with BBC on Thursday, 26nd of May, and they put me into contact with the Australian Transport Safety Board. I gave the piece to Eng. Jeremias Fr. Chito, a Technical Administrator at the Civil Aviation Center in Maputo, Mozambique.
Based on the photos’ metadata, they were taken at location S25 51 48.51, E32 44 38.25 (-25.863475, 32.743958) on 5/28,2016 at around 1:07 pm. Here’s one photo; the full set of 13 in high resolution can be found in this Dropbox folder.