MH370: Likely piece of doomed plane found, U.S. official says

Story highlights

NEW: The debris is on its way to Australia for examination

A day of remembrance is being planned for Sunday

American tourist who found plane part says his "heart was pounding"

CNN  — 

The American tourist who helped find a piece of wreckage that may have belonged to MH370 hopes the debris, if connected with the missing airliner, can provide a clue.

Blaine Gibson chartered a boat and organized a trip over the weekend on the coast of Mozambique. The owner of the boat and Gibson found the plane part washed ashore on a sandbar.

“It never occurred to me that I would find something like this here. It’s almost like a dream. I don’t know if it’s from 370 or another plane. Whatever it is, even if it’s not from 370, it raises awareness that people need to look for stuff on beaches,” said Gibson, who has been involved in the search for MH370 as a private citizen.

He is also part of an independent group that interpreted data in a bid to find the missing plane.

It’s not unusual for private people and companies to get involved in searches for missing planes, especially when the search has gone on for a long time.

After the underwater search for MH370 was postponed, Australia said it would negotiate with private contractors to conduct the next phase. Authorities chose the Dutch firm Fugro Survey to carry out the Indian Ocean search.

MH370 families at one point sought to raise $5 million to help find answers about the missing flight.

Gibson told CNN his “heart was pounding” when he first saw the wreckage, but expressed caution.

“The chances are pretty slim that it’s the plane we are interested in,” he said.

Still, Gibson, who has met some people who had family members on the flight, recognizes the potential impact of his find.

“These are real people with real pain. Anything that can bring answers, I want to help do,” he said about the victims’ friends and families.

Further examination required

The debris is apparently from a Boeing 777, like the missing MH370 airliner, according to a U.S. official.

The location of the debris is consistent with some of the drift modeling, Australian authorities said.

The discovery was reported to officials Monday, and Gibson handed over his find to Mozambique authorities, said Cmdr. Joao de Abreu Martins, chairman of the Institute of Civil Aviation of Mozambique.

The debris is on its way to Australia for further examination, that country’s Minister for Transport and Infrastructure said in a statement. Australian and Malaysian officials, as well as international specialists, will be closely looking at the piece.

The part is believed to measure 35 inches by 22 inches. The wreckage is a piece of horizontal stabilizer skin, the U.S. official said.

The horizontal stabilizer is the part of the aircraft’s tail that is horizontal as the plane flies.

The debris includes a fastener. An official at the fastener company, LISI Aerospace, said the part in question is a pretty standard part.

“I would expect to see this on many varieties of Boeing aircraft, not particular to a 777,” said Jared Young, vice president of research and development.

An aviation source said there was no record of any Boeing 777 missing other than Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

Still, some family members of those on board remain skeptical.

“We don’t believe in the stories of debris any more,” said Zhang Meiling, whose daughter and son-in-law were on board.

Steve Wang, whose mother was on the flight, said that he’s waiting for authorities to verify the information.

No comment from airline

The mystery of what happened to the plane remains unsolved. The search has turned up some aircraft debris, but also some false leads.

It took more than a month for French investigators to confirm that debris found on Reunion Island in July was from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

The airline displayed similar caution Wednesday when it would not confirm that the newly found debris is from MH370. “It is too speculative at this point for MAS to comment,” the airline said, using its initials.

The Malaysian Transport Minister also urged caution.

Mozambique is about 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers) west of Reunion Island, with the large island of Madagascar between them.

Debris found in Thailand in mid-January turned out not to be from MH370.

One of aviation’s greatest mysteries

The disappearance of MH370 remains one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.

The flight took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia early in the morning, bound for Beijing.

At 1:19 a.m., as the plane was flying over the South China Sea, Malaysian air traffic controllers radioed the crew to contact controllers in Ho Chi Minh City for the onward flight through Vietnamese airspace.

The crew’s acknowledgment of the request was the last thing ever heard from MH370: “Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero.”

Shortly afterward, air traffic controllers in Malaysia lost contact with the plane somewhere over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

The aircraft’s transponder, which identifies the plane and relays details like altitude and speed to controllers, stopped transmitting. MH370 seemingly disappeared without a trace.

Malaysian authorities revealed later that military radar had tracked the plane as it inexplicably changed course, turned back to the west and flew across the Malaysian Peninsula, up the Strait of Malacca, before flying out of radar range at 2:14 a.m. and vanishing once again.

Remembering those on board

Families and friends of people on board MH370 are planning a day of remembrance Sunday to mark two years since the disappearance of the flight.

Voice 370, a family support ground, said an event would be held at The Square in Publika, Kuala Lumpur.

“The families and friends of passengers on board MH370 have endured a long wait of two years for reliable news on the whereabouts of MH370 and the fate of our loved ones on board,” the group said, calling for funds and for the search to continue.

“Every step to envisage life without a loved one who was on board the flight has been agonizing and the festering wounds of loss and ‘not knowing’ have made the task of initiating even the first steps towards ‘moving on’ practically impossible for family members,” it said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of pieces of debris found recently in Mozambique. One piece of debris was found.

CNN’s Elwyn Lopez, Richard Quest, Karan Olson and Aaron Cooper contributed to this report.