A piece of debris that has been identified as almost certainly being part of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may be able to provide clues as to how the plane went down in the Indian Ocean, sources told Bloomberg.
While investigators initially thought the plane may have gone down quickly in a tight spiral, the debris that washed up on Reunion Island near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean last week suggests that the aircraft may have glided along after running out of fuel and descended slowly into the water.
The piece of the plane that was found, called a "flaperon," was most likely "broken off by the engine pod ripping off as it was dragged through the water on the initial impact," Tracy Lamb, an aviation safety consultant and former Boeing 737 pilot, told Bloomberg.
"The speculation among pilots right now is that it must have come down at a relatively shallow angle," Lamb said.
Former US National Transportation Safety Board investigator Greg Feith told Bloomberg that since the piece was not "crushed," experts could "deduce it was either a low-energy crash or a low-energy intentional ditching."
Patrick Smith, airline pilot and author of the book "Cockpit Confidential," told Business Insider the debris could hint at the manner of the crash — but it would still just be speculation at this point.
"If indeed the wing piece was in the extended position, consistent with where it would be in low-speed operations, this MIGHT suggest the airplane was still under control when it crashed," Smith told Business Insider in an email.
"But we're looking at one tiny, badly damaged piece from the jetliner. It's merely supposition at this point."
More debris has washed up on Reunion Island since the flaperon was discovered. Malaysia's transport minister said a team at the island had since found a window and aluminum foil that may have come from the plane. Investigators have not yet conclusively identified this debris as having come from the plane.
MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. The Boeing 777-200ER vanished with 239 people onboard.
(Google Maps / Business Insider)
The search for the Malaysian jet has been focused on a 7.3-million-square-mile area in the southern Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia.
Search crews are still focusing on that general area; investigators have determined that the debris found on Reunion Island was probably carried there by currents.
Many people have tried to determine where MH370 went down and how it crashed. The lack of an obvious debris field in the weeks after the crash initially baffled investigators.
It's still unclear what specifically brought MH370 down, and the debris that has been recovered isn't very likely to answer that question.
"Random pieces of wreckage can sometimes yield certain clues," Smith said. "Investigators can sometimes tell if a cabin fire or explosion occurred prior to impact, for instance.
"But without an intact data recorder it's unlikely we will ever know for sure what happened, or how. It doesn't surprise me that we're finally discovering pieces, but I suspect the black boxes — out there somewhere under millions of tons of seawater — are lost forever."
A months-old US intelligence report that surfaced recently speculates that MH370 may have been deliberately flown off course. The theory comes from evidence showing that the plane mysteriously changed course multiple times.
The idea of foul play and sabotage has come up before. In March 2014, the same month the plane disappeared during its flight, Reuters reported that military radar data suggested the plane was purposely flown hundreds of miles off the planned flight path.
Around that same time, The New York Times also reported that MH370 also saw significant changes in altitude after losing contact with ground control. The multiple changes in course reportedly suggest the plane was still under the command of a pilot, but as Smith pointed out, it's hard to know for sure.
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