Metal on Thai beach not from missing plane; Mitsubishi says it’s likely from rocket

AP

Malaysia confirmed Tuesday that a piece of metal found washed up on a Thai beach last week was not from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 that went missing almost two years ago in one of aviation history’s most enduring mysteries.

The confirmation came a day after Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said the piece was likely part of a rocket launched by Japan.

The discovery of the metal sparked speculation that it might be from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared almost two years ago.

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a statement that Malaysian and Thai experts examined the debris and ascertained that the numbers engraved on the body, the wire bundle and the bolts do not match those of a Boeing 777, which Flight MH370 was operating.

Liow said the part numbers found on the gently curving piece of metal are not listed in the Malaysia Airlines’ catalog manual for a 777.

“Based on these identifying details, the team has confirmed that the debris does not belong to a B777 9M-MRO aircraft (MH370),” he said.

Mitsubishi Heavy said Monday that the metal piece is “highly likely” to be part of a H-IIA or H-IIB rocket launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, based on an initial examination of photos and videos of the object.

Company spokeswoman Sayo Suwashita said officials are trying to determine which rocket and its launch date.

She said rocket debris falls into the ocean after every launch, and most is collected. However, sometimes pieces can be found some distance from the launch site, including in foreign waters.

The most recent H-IIA launch was in November.

Flight MH370 took off from Malaysia in March 2014. It lost communications and made a sharp turn away from its Beijing destination before disappearing. It is presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, far away from Thailand.

The debris was found on the eastern coast of southern Thailand’s Nakhon Si Thammarat province, about 600 km south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand.

Liow said Sunday that the search for the missing jet, which carried 239 people, is ongoing in the Indian Ocean and that its second phase is expected to be completed by June. Australia has led a multinational search that has so far cost more than $120 million.