Authorities probe large metal chunk that washed onto Thai beach
Thai people look at a large chunk of metal found on a beach in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, Thailand, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (AP Photo)
Grant Peck, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, January 24, 2016 9:22AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:45PM EST
BANGKOK -- A large chunk of metal that could be from an aircraft washed ashore in southern Thailand, but Malaysian authorities have cautioned against speculation of a link to a Malaysia Airlines flight missing almost two years.
The location on the eastern side of Thailand where the debris was found also means it is highly unlikely that the material is from the missing plane.
Flight 370 lost communications and made a sharp turn away from its Beijing destination before disappearing in March 2014. It is presumed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, and only one piece of debris has been identified as coming from the plane, a slab of wing that washed ashore on Reunion Island in the western Indian Ocean last July.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said he instructed Malaysian civil aviation officials to contact Thailand about the newly found wreckage, a curved piece of metal measuring about 2 metres by 3 metres (6 1/2 feet by 10 feet) with electrical wires hanging from it and numbers stamped on it in several places.
"I urge the media and the public not to speculate because it will give undue pressure to the loved ones of the victims of MH370," he said.
Thailand's Transportation Ministry said four Malaysian officials and two Thai experts will visit the site Monday.
The debris was found on the eastern coast of southern Thailand's Nakkon Si Thammarat province, about 370 miles (600 kilometres) south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand.
While debris can drift thousands of miles (kilometres) on ocean currents, that location would be a surprise based on the data from Flight 370. The presumed crash site in the Indian Ocean and the fact the wing piece was found on Reunion Island mean it would be highly unlikely any current could have carried a piece of the missing plane to Thailand's eastern coast.
Liow said the search for the missing jet, which carried 239 people, is ongoing in the southern Indian Ocean and that its second phase is expected to be completed by June. Australia has led a multinational search that has so far cost more than $120 million.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau spokesman Dan O'Malley said the agency was awaiting results of an official examination of the debris.
The bureau announced Monday that the search of 120 square kilometres (46,000 square miles) of seabed where the Boeing 777 is thought to have crashed had been set back after a ship lost its sonar equipment.
The Fugro Discovery, one of three ships conducting the search, towed its side-scan sonar into a mud volcano that rose 2,200 metres (7,200 feet) from the sea floor on Sunday, the bureau said in a statement.
The ship lost the sonar plus 4.5 kilometres (14,800 feet) of cable. The ship was now making a six-day journey to the Australian port of Fremantle to collect new cable and would continue the search with spare sonar equipment.
The plane was tracked by radar flying over the South China Sea then making a sharp turn west for unknown reasons. It crossed the Malay Peninsula and Straits of Malacca, which would put it off Thailand's west coast.
Radar contact was lost shortly after the plane entered the airspace over the Indian Ocean. Analysis of exchanges between its engine and a satellite determined the plane flew south on a straight path for hours, leading authorities to believe it flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the water.
Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.