Families of those on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may finally have a potential clue as to what happened to the airplane, which disappeared on March 8, 2014 with 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers on board. One small piece of the puzzle may have been found on Wednesday when what appears to be a flaperon from a Boeing 777 (based on part numbers) was found washed ashore on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. If confirmed, this would be strong evidence that MH370 did indeed crash into the Indian Ocean, as there are no other known 777 aircraft from which this part could have come.
A flaperon is a specialized aircraft control surface used in many large airplanes. Flaps generally extend downward from the trailing edge (back) of a wing to add more surface area, which means more lift, and that allows the plane to fly at slower speeds. Flaps are particularly useful during landings. Ailerons move up or down as necessary to make an airplane roll left or right while turning. The flaperon is basically a two-in-one piece that combines the functions of a flap and an aileron.
The debris is currently in France, where it will be analyzed in the coming days. Investigators will be looking for any clues they can find that will provide insight into the fate of MH370. This will include detailed observations of the exterior surface damage, which may tell them whether the piece came off in flight or upon impact with the water. Another interesting avenue will be an analysis of the barnacles attached to the part. Where the barnacles are located, how old they are, and what type they are, may yield clues about where the part went into the ocean and whether it floated for months or was submerged for some time.
The investigation may not answer the question of how the crash happened or why the airplane disappeared, but it is potentially the first actual confirmation of a crash. It is significant for that reason, even if no other evidence is uncovered.