MH370: ”Plane seat” found washed up on Reunion Island three months ago
Nicolas Ferrier says he came across the blue plane seat three months ago, but thought nothing of it at the time
Nicolas Ferrier barely gave the blue seat a second glance. As he carried out his daily patrol of the wild shores of Reunion, picking up debris from the jet black sands and giant boulders, it seemed to him like just another piece of rubbish – a bus seat, perhaps, or a hang glider’s chair.
“It wasn’t until Wednesday that it hit me what it could have been,” said Mr Ferrier, climbing off his BMX to speak to The Sunday Telegraph in the shade of a screwpine tree, overlooking the pounding surf. “It was probably part of that plane.”
Mr Ferrier spotted the seat in early May. And yesterday he told his story for the first time – up until now, no one but his wife has known about the find.
It was, he explained, washed up on the mile-long stretch of coast which he monitors near Saint Andre, on the east of the Indian Ocean island. And last week the same stretch of coast was at the centre of the world’s attention, after what is believed to be part of a Boeing 777 wing was washed ashore. Given that the only such plane to have crashed in the Southern Hemisphere is MH370 – the ill-fated flight that vanished in mysterious circumstances in March 2014 – it seems, at last, that the riddle could have been solved.
An Australian-led search has spent 16 months combing the southern Indian Ocean for the aircraft, which is known to have inexplicably veered off-course from its designated route, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“This is the first positive sign that we have located part of that plane,” said Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister.
On Saturday the suspected wing component arrived in Paris, having been flown from Reunion on an Air France flight on Friday night.
Malaysian and French experts will begin their analysis on Wednesday, along with an examination of parts of a suitcase discovered nearby.
On Monday three French magistrates as well as a Malaysian legal representative and an official from France’s civil aviation investigating authority will begin meeting, behind closed doors, in Paris.
“I believe that we are moving closer to solving the mystery of MH370,” said Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, Malaysia’s deputy transport minister. “This could be the convincing evidence that MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean.”
Yet Mr Ferrier had no idea of the significance of the object. Flotsam and jetsam washed up are part of his everyday life on the inhospitable beach, where nobody dares to enter the fierce waves and shark-infested waters.
“I found a couple of suitcases too, around the same time, full of things,” he said, almost in passing.
What did you do with them?
“I burnt them,” he said, pointing to the pile of ashes lying on the boulders. “That’s my job. I collect rubbish, and burn it.
“I could have found many things that belonged to the plane, and burnt them, without realising.”
He also saw the wing which washed up on Wednesday – although in May, the barnacles encrusting its side were still alive. By the time it washed ashore again this week, the crustaceans were dead.
“Like the seat, I didn’t know what it was.
“I sat on it. I was fishing for macabi (bonefish) and used it as a table. I really didn’t pay it much attention – until I saw it on the news.”
His story is backed up by that of another local woman, named only as Isabelle, who spotted the same object while walking on the beach in May, accompanied by her 10-year-old son.
“It was the beginning of the holidays – around May 10,” she told local news website Zinfos974.com.
“I was walking with my son, Krishna. Then from a rock on which we were standing, he saw an object and shouted: ‘Mum, that looks like the wing of a plane!'”
Krishna then jumped on what looked like a suitcase. He managed to prise it open, and then spotted another suitcase buried in the black sand.
But the waves were gathering height and so Isabelle ordered her son off the beach. They went home, and thought nothing of it until Wednesday.
Mr Ferrier has not told his tale until now because he has been in hospital for several days; yesterday (SAT) was his first day back at his home, 300 yards from the beach.
Why didn’t he report the seat and suitcases at the time?
“I work alone, so didn’t have anyone to consult about it – unlike the others,” he said, referring to the team of beach cleaners led by Johnny Begue, who found the wing on Wednesday.
And the testimony of Mr Ferrier and Isabelle raises the question that hundreds of items could have been washing up on Reunion for the past few months, with no one paying any attention.
“Even now I can’t quite understand it. For me, it was something totally normal – I see it all the time. I can’t really say if it was the first time or the last time I saw bits like that, because I never pay attention.
“From now on I will look more closely.”
Has he found any other interesting or unusual objects?
“Maybe,” he said. “But I wouldn’t know. I just throw them on the fire.”
He doesn’t listen to the radio or watch television, he said, and was unaware of the furore.
“Malaysia Airlines is a bit like bin Laden,” he chuckled, his thickly-accented French mixed with Creole. “No one had ever heard of it – then suddenly we talk about nothing else.”
And for Mr Ferrier and other islanders, the global spotlight has taken them aback.
Reunion, a sleepy volcanic outcrop 400 miles east of Madagascar, is unused to this attention. The 850,000 inhabitants live from agriculture – sugar cane plantations carpet over half the agricultural land on this 40-mile long island – and from tourism. Yet tourism has taken a battering following a wave of shark attacks: since 2011, there have been seven fatalities, with the most recent the death of a 13-year-old surfer in April. A man lost his arm in an attack a fortnight ago.
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