Suspected plane debris washes ashore on several Maldives islands

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Location of Kaafu Atoll within the Maldives.
Image: TUBS.

Authorities are investigating what's left of debris believed to belong to a plane, that washed ashore several small islands in the Maldives. The investigation began as a result of photos of the debris being uploaded to the social networking website Facebook. Some of the debris is reported to have washed ashore as early as May 31 and was found on a beach owned by the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru resort, located in Kaafu Atoll. In the past few days, several other pieces of debris were recovered on at least three other islands. Authorities are trying to determine if it may be part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). Last week, a piece of a wing known as a flaperon, reported to be from MH370, was found washed ashore on Réunion Island.

Pictures taken of the objects recovered in the Maldives on, reportedly, May 31, were posted to Facebook by an employee of the resort. That prompted authorities to launch an investigation into the debris, but before it could be examined, it had already been sent away for disposal. The photographs show a large white object, possibly two, stained with algae and appear to be made of a fiberglass and honeycomb material. The objects appear to be several feet in length and width and in one photo where the paint is severely peeled, red letters "IC" can be seen. Those pieces, along with others, were taken away and disposed of as trash. When authorities discovered the photographs, they returned to the site, but only found a small, five to seven inch (about 13–18 cm) piece of debris they say doesn't appear to be part of a plane.

According to the resort's manager Mr. Naseem, the bigger pieces of debris and other waste were taken away and disposed of in the usual way. He added other forms of debris and trash with no value, such as buoys and suspected military waste, wash up on the islands all the time, especially during monsoon season. Local residents and resort workers regularly collect trash which is sent to the garbage island Thilafushi where it's sorted, exported for recycling, or burned. Reports say at the time the debris was collected, no one suspected it could be from MH370.

"Although some of it was taken to Thilafushi, there is still a five or a seven inch piece on the resort. It was left because it is small. The management has decided to hand it over to the Police", said an unnamed official to SunOnline, who said authorities don't know if any of the debris taken away has been destroyed. The Serious and Organized Crime Unit of the Maldives Police Service and experts from the Maldives Civil Aviation Authority are heading the investigation.

Yesterday, reports stated several more pieces of debris, one piece measuring some eight feet by two feet (about 2.4 by 0.6 m), were found on Baa Atoll, Fehendhoo and Fulhahdhoo and washed ashore sometime in the past few days. One piece appears to have a serial number on the side, possibly reading '021411270507.' Initially residents who found the debris took it home. "A resident had found the debris and taken it home. Nobody had thought twice about it then. When he heard about the discovery in Vabbinfaru resort we immediately called the Police," said Mohamed Ibrahim, a councilman for Fehendhoo Island, to Haveeru Daily.

MH370, while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China, vanished without a trace on March 8, 2014. All 239 passengers and crew are believed to be dead. On the day the plane went missing, residents on the small Maldive island of Kudahuvadhoo claimed to have seen a very "low flying jumbo jet" crash into the Indian Ocean. Some also noted the colors appeared to resemble that of a Malaysia Airlines plane. "I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We've seen seaplanes, but I'm sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly", one resident was quoted as saying to the newspaper Haveeru Daily. Some claim the plane appeared to be headed in the direction of Diego Garcia.

According to The Huffington Post, Haveeru reported the witnesses were interviewed by authorities who deemed their statements to be truthful, but Maldive military officials along with Malaysian officials say no such aircraft was in Maldive airspace at the time MH370 went missing. "Based on the monitoring up to date, no indication of Flight MH370 has been observed on any military radars in the country [Maldives]. Furthermore, the data of radars at Maldives airports have also been analysed and shows no indication of the said flight", said Malaysian Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein.