Relatives of passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 offer prayers at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on March 1, 2015. Photo: AFP
Families aching for closure after their relatives disappeared aboard Malaysia Airlines MH370 last year vented their deep frustration Thursday at conflicting signals from Malaysia and France over whether the finding of a plane part had been confirmed.
Malaysia confirmed early on Thursday that a piece of a wing washed up on an Indian Ocean island beach last week was from MH370, the first trace of the plane found since it vanished last year with 239 people on board.
"Today, 515 days since the plane disappeared, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts have conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion Island is indeed from MH370," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in an early morning televised address.
But French officials with custody of the wing part said only that there were strong indications the barnacle-encrusted part - known as a "flaperon" - was from the flight and that they would work further to try to confirm the finding Thursday.
About two-thirds of the passengers were from China, and in the Chinese capital, Xu Jinghong said she could not understand why Malaysian and French authorities did not make their announcement together.
"I am very angry - so angry that my hands and feet are cold," Xu, 41, said in an interview during the early hours of Thursday outside her home in downtown Beijing. "The announcement was made without experts from France present. I don't understand how the procedure can be like this."
Many Chinese families of MH370 passengers struggled to accept Najib's announcement, with one relative using the name TxiYY saying on Weibo that "after all our 515 days waiting failed to turn into a miracle", and another called Fence2012 posting that "even tho the bad news have been all over the place, we still held onto the slim hope. Today the Malaysian side ended the families' hope and expectation. Maybe this is the way to end the misery."
"We expect and hope that there would be more objects to be found which would be able to help resolve this mystery," it said in a statement issued as soon as Najib had spoken.
The fragment of wing known as a flaperon was flown to mainland France after being found last week covered in barnacles on a beach on France's Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
The announcement overnight by Malaysian authorities would appear to give the first strong physical evidence of a crash, which could put to rest several theories that many relatives have refused to rule out, including that the plane and its passengers were hijacked and intact in some still-secret location.
However, any potential certainty was diluted by the word from Paris, where Deputy Prosecutor Serge Mackowiak said the "very strong conjectures" that the wing part was from Flight 370 still needed to be "confirmed by complementary analysis" that would begin later Thursday.
It was unclear whether the mix-up was a result of miscommunication between the two countries, or whether Malaysian officials were overeager to send out some definitive signal for relatives of the missing. In any case, a full confirmation of the wing part wasn't likely to bring total closure for relatives, with the rest of the plane and the bodies still missing.
John Goglia, a former board member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, told Reuters: "The real work is yet to begin".
"They will identify everything they can from the metal: damage, barnacles, witness marks on the metal. They're going to look at the brackets (that held the flaperon in place) to see how they broke. From that they can tell the direction and attitude of the airplane when it hit. There's a lot to be told from the metal."