Editor's note: French officials said it may be a week or more before investigators determine whether a piece of debris found on the island of Réunion came from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, The New York Times reports. Based on photographs and video, U.S. officials have said the object likely came from a Boeing 777, and MH370 is the only known missing Boeing 777. However, Australian and Malaysian officials have cautioned it's too early to know for sure if the debris is from the missing aircraft, which vanished with 239 people aboard in March 2014. An aircraft engineer told The Times that photos suggest the found object "separated from the aircraft violently" and "it's pretty clear the aircraft didn't survive, it was completely destroyed." Australian officials say the ongoing search off Western Australia for the missing plane will continue. - Stephanie
Malaysian prime minister: 'Initial reports suggest that the debris is very likely to be from a Boeing 777, but we need to verify whether it is from flight MH370. At this stage it is too early to speculate' - @NajibRazak
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370/MAS370) was a scheduled international passenger flight that disappeared on 8 March 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China. Flight 370 last made voice contact with air traffic control at 01:19 MYT (17:19 UTC, 7 March) when it was over the South China Sea, less than an hour after takeoff. The aircraft disappeared from air traffic controllers' radar screens at 01:22. Malaysian military radar continued to track Flight 370 as it deviated from its planned flight path and crossed the Malay Peninsula. Flight 370 left the range of Malaysian military radar at 02:22 while over the Andaman Sea, 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) northwest of Penang in northwestern Malaysia. The aircraft, a Boeing 777-200ER, was carrying 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from 15 nations.
A multinational search effort began in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, where the flight's signal was lost on secondary surveillance radar, and was soon extended to the Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea. Analysis of satellite communications between the aircraft and Inmarsat's satellite communications network concluded that the flight continued until at least 08:19 MYT and flew south into the southern Indian Ocean, although the precise location cannot be determined; Australia took charge of the search effort on 17 March, when the search shifted to the southern Indian Ocean. On 24 March 2014, the Malaysian government, noting that the final location determined by the satellite communication is far from any possible landing sites, concluded that "flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean." The current phase of the search is a comprehensive search of the seafloor about 1,800 kilometres (1,100 mi) southwest of Perth, Australia, which began in October 2014. Despite being the largest and most expensive search in aviation history, there has been no confirmation of any flight debris, resulting in speculations about its disappearance. On 29 July 2015, debris from an aircraft wing was found on the shores of Saint-André, Réunion Island. Authorities were investigating whether it was from a Boeing 777-200ER, and whether markings on it could be traced to the MH370 aircraft.
Malaysia established the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to investigate the incident, working with foreign aviation authorities and experts. Neither the crew nor the aircraft's communication systems relayed a distress signal, indications of bad weather, or technical problems before the aircraft vanished. Two passengers travelling on stolen passports were initially suspect in the disappearance, but they were later determined to be asylum seekers and terrorism has been ruled out. Malaysian police have identified the Captain as the prime suspect if human intervention was the cause of the disappearance, after clearing all other passengers of any suspicious motives. Power was lost to the aircraft's satellite data unit (SDU) at some point between 01:07 and 02:03; the SDU logged onto Inmarsat's satellite communication network at 02:25—three minutes after the aircraft left the range of radar. Based on analysis of the satellite communications, the aircraft turned south after passing north of Sumatra and flew for five hours without communication and with little deviation in its track, suggesting that the aircraft was flying on autopilot without manual input from the cockpit and that Flight 370 may have experienced a hypoxia event, ending when fuel was exhausted.
At the time of its disappearance, and if the presumed loss of all on board is confirmed, Flight 370 was the deadliest aviation incident in Malaysia Airlines' history and the deadliest involving a Boeing 777. It was surpassed in both regards 131 days later by the crash of another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 – Flight 17 – that was shot down over Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines was struggling financially, a problem which was exacerbated by a decline in ticket sales after Flight 370 disappeared and before the crash of Flight 17; the airline was renationalised by the end of 2014. The Malaysian government received significant criticism, especially from China, for failing to disclose information in a timely manner during the early weeks of the search. Flight 370's disappearance brought to the public's attention the limits of aircraft tracking and flight recorders, including several issues raised four years earlier—but never mandated—following the loss of Air France Flight 447. A task force set up by the International Air Transport Association, with the support of the International Civil Aviation Organization, proposed a new standard that, by December 2015, commercial aircraft must report their position every 15 minutes. The Malaysian Ministry of Transport issued an interim report on 8 March 2015. On 29 July 2015, parts of an aircraft's wing were found on Reunion Island, east of Madagascar, a French offshore territory. According to early reports, it is likely the part belongs to the trailing edge flaps of the Boeing 777.