MH370 Probe: What’s Next for the Flaperon?

Officials are "increasingly confident" the debris comes from the missing jet.

ByABC News
August 1, 2015, 4:41 AM

— -- With authorities “increasingly confident” the airplane debris recovered Wednesday comes from MH370, the jet that vanished over the Indian Ocean last year, official analysis of the part is set to begin on Wednesday in Toulouse, France.

Engineers have tentatively identified the part as a “flaperon” from a Boeing 777, the same plane as Malaysia Flight MH370.

In Toulouse, investigators will attempt to definitively link the debris to the ill-fated jet — and search for clues about the plane’s final moments.

According to industry experts like Bill Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, investigators will likely clean the jet, and then examine its surface — first with a magnifying glass, then potentially through ultrasound technology.

They’ll look for tiny fractures in the surface, which could reveal the jet’s angle of impact, says Waldock.

An ultrasound could show “just how violent the separation was,” the professor tells ABC News.

Based on preliminary photographs of the recently-recovered debris, some experts believe the plane hit the water relatively slowly, with the flaps pointed down — which would suggest there was someone consciously manipulating the controls when the plane went down. However, there’s also a chance that it suffered a high-speed, nose-first crash.

Though the recovered piece could give investigators hits about what happened to the jet, “it certainly doesn’t address how it happened or why,” Waldock told ABC.

Investigators may also examine the marine life that attached itself to the flaperon during its 16-month journey across the Indian Ocean.

There’s a chance that the species attached to the part could help investigators more closely estimate the crash site, which is likely thousands of miles away from where the part eventually washed up. The age of the barnacles could also help investigators more definitively link the hacked-off piece to MH370.

If investigators conclude the flaperon is from MH370, “this confirms the airplane crashed — and that removes any hope” that the passengers survived, Waldock says. “It is the proof that the airplane crashed, that’s the significance.”