MH370: France steps up searches off Reunion as Malaysia sticks to its guns

Story highlights

  • France announces air, land and sea searches on and around Reunion Island
  • Malaysian Transport Minister insists the country's investigators found more plane debris
  • He tells CNN that difference between French and Malaysian statements on flaperon is "a choice of words"

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN)France is stepping up the search off Reunion Island for debris from missing Flight MH370 as Malaysia insists its investigators found more objects from a plane on the the Indian Ocean island.

A military plane will conduct flights over the waters near the French island from Friday onward, the country's Defense Ministry said in a statement late Thursday, and security forces will carry out foot patrols as well as helicopter and naval searches.
The increased activity was ordered by the French President and Prime Minister, the statement said, following the announcement by investigators that the Boeing 777 wing part found on a Reunion beach last week is very likely from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Uncertainty surrounds the nature of the objects that Malaysia said Thursday had been discovered by its team of investigators on Reunion.
Malaysian officials said they had handed a load of aircraft debris -- including window pane, cushion and aluminum materials -- to French authorities for verification on whether any of it is from MH370. But French officials haven't reported any further objects from a plane being found on the island.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told CNN on Friday that the members of the team who found the debris know what they're talking about.
"These are all the experts from the technical side, from Malaysian team, and they train in these areas, so they will be able to identify whether it is aircraft material or whether it is cushion aircraft material," he said in an interview.
But no "other relevant objects" in the search for debris have been handed over to investigators in the last few days, a source close to the investigation said Friday.
"There are a lot of things on the beaches," the source said. "For now, nothing else we received has been sent to Paris or Toulouse. Only the flaperon and the suitcase have been sent to our department in Paris. They are the one in charge of the investigation. We received loads of things recently, but we have absolutely no idea whether or not this is related to the plane. We need to be very careful about this. For example, I received a pair of flip-flops yesterday. A pair of flip-flops could belong to anyone and everyone. I need to discuss with our authorities in Paris to see what we send there and what we don't send."
At a news conference Friday, Reunion Prefect Dominique Sorain said some debris recovered in recent days "is not as obvious as the flaperon" and would require "much more complex analysis."

Difference in flaperon statements is 'a choice of words'

Confusion has also arisen from differences between statements from French and Malaysian officials about how sure they are that the wing part found on Reunion last week is from the missing plane.
Malaysia says it has conclusively confirmed the component, known as a flaperon, is from MH370 through characteristics that match Malaysia Airlines' maintenance records for the lost Boeing 777, including a serial number and a maintenance seal.
French prosecutors overseeing the analysis of the flaperon, however, say that while there are "very strong presumptions" that it's from MH370, more tests need to be carried out to ensure absolute certainty.
Liow on Friday played down the discrepancy between the two positions, which has caused fresh bewilderment and anger for family members of the 239 people on board Flight 370, as "a choice of words."
"We are all in the same direction," he told CNN.
But relatives of Chinese passengers on the flight, which disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014, continued to display their anger over Malaysian officials' handling of the investigation.
The family members, whose trust in the Malaysian government has been eroded by repeated missteps over the past 17 months, held a protest outside the Malaysia Airlines office in Beijing.

Malaysia hasn't requested change to search area

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, said Thursday during a visit to Malaysia that he hoped "that the debris that was discovered on the Reunion Island, if it is found to be conclusively from the aircraft, that this will help to bring some sense of closure about what happened."
It's presumed to be the first bit of tangible evidence recovered from the missing airliner supporting officials' belief that it went down in the Indian Ocean, far off the western coast of Australia.
But many relatives say they won't get full closure until their loved ones are located and the truth of why the plane veered sharply off course and disappeared is established.
Australia is leading the underwater search for the main wreckage of the plane in the eastern Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from Reunion Island.
Australian officials have said they have no plans to modify the search area in light of the discovery of the flaperon on Reunion, noting that their calculations suggest some debris could have ended up there.
Liow told CNN on Friday that Malaysia hadn't asked the Australians to expand or change the search area. Any such recommendations would come from an advisory group composed of experts from Australia, Malaysia, China and other countries, he said.
As well as the underwater search and the efforts on and around Reunion, authorities on Mauritius, another Indian Ocean island, are also hunting for possible plane debris.