SEPANG, Malaysia – An American adventurer said Saturday it would be a “lucky discovery” if the piece of aircraft he found on a sandbank off the coast of Mozambique is confirmed to be from the Malaysia Airlines jet.
Blaine Gibson, who said he’s been searching for Flight 370 over the last year, flew to Malaysia to attend a ceremony to be held Sunday by families of the 239 who were on board to mark the second anniversary of its disappearance.
Speaking to the Associated Press upon his arrival at the airport outside of Kuala Lumpur, Gibson said he had wanted no publicity about his Feb. 27 discovery until after the piece was assessed, but news of the finding leaked.
The 58-year-old lawyer from Seattle said he was cautious about the possibility that the part is from the missing Boeing 777 because three large jets had crashed in the area before.
“I’d say it was a very lucky discovery if it turns out to be from Malaysia 370,” said Gibson, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “MH370 Search On.”
Even if the piece does not turn out to be from the jet that disappeared on March 8, 2014, Gibson said his discovery could still be useful, perhaps providing clues to another air disaster or raising awareness that the mystery of Flight 370 still has not been solved.
Gibson said he hopes his finding will encourage more people in the area to comb beaches for clues and to hand over any items they think could be passenger belongings or plane debris to authorities.
An ongoing search in the southern Indian Ocean has found no trace of the missing plane, though a wing part from the jet washed ashore on Reunion Island in the western Indian Ocean in July.
The new piece of debris is now in the hands of Mozambique civil aviation authorities and is expected to be sent to Australia this week.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai has said there is a “high” probability the part is from a Boeing 777. Flight 370 is the only missing 777.
Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester said the location of the debris matches investigators’ drift modeling and would therefore confirm that search crews are looking in the right place for the main underwater wreckage.
Gibson said he didn’t travel to Mozambique specifically to search for the plane. He said he loves traveling and picked Mozambique – the 177th country he has visited – because he had never been there before.
He arrived in Mozambique on Feb. 20 and spent his time sightseeing before deciding to look for possible plane debris a week later, when he hired a boat to go to the sandbank. He said the sandbank was suggested by a local tour guide because it was where fishermen would go to scour for ropes and other items that are washed in from the open sea.
Gibson said half an hour after they started searching the sandbank, the tour guide spotted the piece lying on top of the sand and quickly called him over.
“The odds are very, very small” of finding plane debris, Gibson said, adding that he has “combed a lot of beaches in the world and found absolutely nothing.”
“I did not bring this public and wanted this to stay quiet until it was in the hands of investigators and they were able to make a determination, but the story got ahead of itself,” he said.
Gibson said he started actively searching for the plane in the past year, taking him to beaches in the Maldives, Mauritius, Cambodia, Myanmar and the French island of Reunion.
He said he attended a service in Malaysia last year on the first anniversary of the plane’s disappearance, and that his trip back here for the second anniversary was planned before his discovery of the plane part in Mozambique. He said he has been in touch with some relatives of Flight 370 passengers via Facebook.
Gibson said he has funded his search out of his own pocket and has not sought or received any money. He has no plans to write a book, saying his focus is on “finding clues and finding the plane.”
What has driven Gibson’s search for Flight 370? “The combination of two things: My love of travel, adventure and solving mysteries, together with a very deep concern for the families of all those on board are driving me in this search,” he said.
Gibson said he has previously traveled to Siberia to investigate a meteor crash and Central America as a volunteer in archaeological expeditions to find out why the Mayan civilization collapsed.
– Associated Press