Columbia scientist on plane debris that people think is missing Flight MH370: 'This is it'

MH370ReutersFrench gendarmes and police stand near a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, July 29, 2015.

Aviation experts are getting closer to identifying bits ofwreckage that were found washed up on a French island in the Indian Ocean yesterday.

They think it could be from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared more than a year ago.

Multiple oceanographers have said it’s plausible that part of the debris from the missing plane could have made its way into the area where the wreckage was found, and today Arnold Gordon, a Columbia University professor of ocean stratification and circulation confirmed that it’s most likely the one they’re looking for.

“This is it,” Gordon told Business Insider.

Gordon explained that when you look at the location of Reunion island, the area near Madagascar where they found the wreckage, and the location it was last recorded before it disappeared, it makes sense that it would belong to the downed Malaysia Airlines flight.

He also cited the approximate age of the ocean barnacles that are growing on the wreckage as an additional piece of evidence suggesting that this is indeed debris from the missing plane.

“The barnacles growing on it are about a year old, and there’s no other 770 missing,” Gordon said.

Of course, there are several caveats, Gordon explained. First, an object floating in the ocean wouldn’t follow a smooth line.

“There are eddies and currents and it’s sort of chaotic,” he said. “There’s enough chaos that to work your way back to March 2014 when the plane when missing that would be a huge area.”

The ocean currents work like a pinball machine, swirling and scattering items that may have landed there hundreds of miles apart in weeks, Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told the Christian Science Monitor.

So although scientists have an estimate of the plane’s flight path via it’s satellite data, they still have to trace any remains they find using the data they have on ocean currents and wind.

That’s hard work.

“You’re looking for those two paths to intersect and that would be your starting point, but there’d be many, many variables, estimations and tolerances in both of those paths,” van Sebille said.

Nevertheless, Malaysian and Australian officials said Thursday that it’s “almost certain” the plane debris came from a Boeing 777.

And a battered suitcase turned up near where the debris was found, although it’s unclear whether it’s related to the plane debris.

The discovery of the debris is being treated as a “major lead” in the MH370 search, Australian officials said. Crews have been searching the southern Indian Ocean near Australia for any sign of the missing plane and have so far been unable to conclusively identify any debris belonging to the aircraft.

MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China. It had 239 passengers and crew on board.

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