France expands hunt for debris

Published 9:47 am Friday, August 7, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A French search plane lifted off Friday for a birds-eye view of Reunion Island, seeking any more potential debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

French authorities said Friday they’ve launched a one-week-long operation with boats and aircraft scouring the Indian Ocean island, where a wing fragment was discovered nine days ago. Malaysian officials say it came from the missing Boeing 777 but investigators from other countries are being more cautious.

The prefect of the French overseas department, Dominique Sorain, said Friday that the search would cover an area 120 kilometers (75 miles) by 40 kilometers (25 miles) around the east coast — where the 2-meter-long wing fragment was found.

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Sorain said other objects have been found on the island’s beaches since last week and have been removed for examination, but he said officials “don’t know” if these belong to a plane.

There remained a difference of opinion between Malaysian officials and their counterparts in France, the U.S. and Australia over whether the wing part, known as a flaperon, was definitely from Flight 370.

In Beijing, about 30 Chinese relatives of Flight 370 passengers marched Friday to the Malaysian Embassy hoping to talk to an official about why Malaysia had confirmed the part came from the plane when French investigators had not. They scuffled briefly with police, who blocked the relatives from approaching the mission.

Some criticism came from within Malaysia itself. Opposition lawmaker Liew Chin Tong said in a statement that Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai must explain “the haste and hurry” to declare the wreckage came from Flight 370.

“A quick conclusion will not do justice to the next of kin of the victims,” he said.

An official in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s office who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the difference of opinion said the Malaysian government owes it to the public and the families of those on the plane to reveal what it knows and to deliver the news first.

“It is our plane and we know it best. Since the French is the investigating team here, they do not want to take our word for it and they want to do more tests — that is fine with us,” the official said. “We are accustomed to criticism from day one, but please give us credit because we are doing our best to cope with this.”

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew disappeared March 8, 2014, on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Officials believe it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, killing all aboard, but the wreckage and the cause remain elusive despite a vast ongoing search led by Australia.

Malaysian officials have said the plane’s movements were consistent with deliberate actions by someone on the plane, suggesting someone in the cockpit intentionally flew the aircraft off course.