An object that could be debris from a Boeing 777 has been found off Mozambique and is being examined by investigators searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, sources told NBC News.
Early photographic analysis of the object suggests it could have come from the doomed jet, which vanished almost exactly two years ago.
It was found on a sandbank in the Mozambique Channel — the body of water between Mozambique in eastern Africa and Madagascar — and in the same corner of the southern Indian Ocean where the only confirmed piece of debris, a flaperon, was found last July.
Investigators in Malaysia, Australia and the United States have seen photographs of the latest object, and sources say there is a good chance it comes from a Boeing 777.
The object has the words “NO STEP” on it and could be from the plane’s horizontal stabilizer — the wing-like parts attached to the tail, sources say. It was discovered by an American who has been blogging about the search for MH370.
Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Center said it was aware of the discovery and arranging for a thorough examination. Malaysia Airlines said it was “too speculative at this point” to comment.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said on Twitter that there was a “high possibility debris found in Mozambique belongs to” a Boeing 777, but he said that was “yet to be confirmed and verified.”
Darren Chester, Australia’s minister for infrastructure and transport, said in a statement Thursday that the location was consistent with drift modeling related to the search. The discovery “reaffirms the search area for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean,” he said.
Boeing engineers are looking at the photos, according to sources. The company has declined to comment.
The development comes days ahead of the second anniversary of the jet’s disappearance en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
No trace has been found of Flight MH370 except for the single barnacle-encrusted flaperon that washed up on the eastern shore of Reunion, east of Madagascar, last July. French aviation experts verified it as part of aircraft 9M-MRO after more than a month of forensic analysis at a laboratory near Toulouse.
There have been false hopes over the course of the investigation: In January, aviation officials ruled that two objects recovered from Malaysia’s east coast were not from the missing airliner.
One of them, a 6-foot-long metal item found in the eastern state of Terengganu, was examined by officials from the Transport Ministry, the Civil Aviation Department and Malaysia Airlines.
However, the sonar search operation has turned up a 19th-century shipwreck.
Almost three-quarters of internationally set 46,000-square-mile search zone has been covered so far in the hunt for the missing airliner — an area of ocean floor larger than the state of South Carolina.
The operation is due to be completed by the middle of this year. The Joint Agency Coordination Center says that if no “credible new information” about the jet’s location emerges, the search will end.
The Cry for Truth, an association of families of the plane’s passengers and crew, objected to plans to end the search, saying in a strongly worded statement that its members feared that organizers were trying to run out the clock.
“With no word from anyone about the investigations over the last year, we wonder if the authorities hope that if they stop updating us we will eventually stop asking and this will lead to an uneventful end to any serious ongoing inquiry,” the group said.
“It appears that the concerned parties — Malaysia, Australia and China — are preparing to bring the curtains down on the search for MH370,” the statement said. “We believe that this would be truly unfortunate.
“The organization announced a remembrance program scheduled for Sunday in Publika Square in Kuala Lumpur.