A local official says a large piece of metal has washed ashore in a southern Thai province that could have come from flight MH370. The Malaysia Airlines jet went missing mid-flight in March 2014.
Local fishermen in the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, which lies on Thailand's southeastern coast, found a piece of suspected plane wreckage on Saturday, local media reported.
The discovery led to immediate speculation of a link to the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370, which disappeared during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014.
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A local official described the object as a large piece of curved metal, which residents had reported to authorities to help identify it.
"Villagers found the wreckage, measuring about 2 meters wide and 3 meters long (6.6 by 9.8 feet)," Tanyapat Phatthikongphan, head of Pak Phanang district, told Reuters. He added that "fishermen said it could have been under the sea for no more than a year, judging from barnacles on it."
If confirmed, it would be the first piece of wreckage from MH370 to turn up since a piece of airline debris washed up on Reunion island last July and was verified to have come from the doomed jetliner, which had 239 people on board.
Thailand's military inspected the latest debris, took photos and agreed it was likely to be from an aircraft, Phatthikongphan told reporters.
"It is likely to be a part from the aircraft's nose because there are electronic wires, insulators on it," he added, adding numbers on the panels should help identification.
Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai has instructed the country's civil aviation department to contact its Thai counterpart. But he urged against speculation until the wreckage had been fully examined. Beijing also said it was following developments closely.
Air crash investigators believe someone may have deliberately switched off MH370's radio transponder before diverting the plane thousands of kilometers off course.
More than 80,000 square kilometers (50,000 square miles) of the Indian Ocean seafloor has being searched in the hunt for the aircraft.
Some experts believe the latest discovery is unlikely to have come from MH370, as unlike Reunion, the Gulf of Thailand is not in the path of ocean currents from the remote area of the Indian Ocean where it is believed the plane went down.
The location of the debris in Thailand "would appear to be inconsistent with the drift models that appeared when MH370's (wing) flaperon was discovered in Reunion last July," said Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor at Flightglobal, an industry publication.
Another aviation expert, Geoffrey Thomas, told Reuters the fragment found "just doesn't look like aircraft fuselage," adding that he couldn't see "any connection with MH370 whatsoever."
Lingering uncertainty surrounding the plane's fate continues to torment the families of those on board, who were mostly Chinese.
In 2014, Malaysia Airlines suffered a double tragedy with MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. In December 2015, it faced further embarrassment after it was revealed that one of its jets flew in the wrong direction for almost an hour.
mm/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)