Transcript of Press Conference, Sydney Airport

Interview

WTC018/2015

30 July 2015

Topic: Wreckage on La Reunion Island

Warren Truss: … objects, probably aircraft parts, being discovered on the La Reunion Islands in the Indian Ocean. Photographs of the wreckage suggest that the objects could be part of the wing flaps of an aircraft, perhaps a flaperon, which has lead to speculation that the parts may come from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. MH370 was operated by a Boeing 777, and the photographs suggest parts that are not inconsistent with a Boeing 777. But there are other possibilities. It will require examination by experts to establish positively that the parts are, indeed, from a 777. It's another step then to establish that the parts come from the particular 777 that operated MH370. Work is being undertaken by the various agencies to try and advance that investigation. There are a number on the parts, 657BB; that is not a serial number or a registration number, but it's possible that it could be a maintenance number and that might help an early investigation.

I'm informed that it is a realistic possibility that wreckage from MH370, if it entered the Indian Ocean in the place where our current search operations are being undertaken, could have reached the Reunion Islands in the 16 months since the incident. Indeed, areas around Madagascar, not very far from the Reunion Islands, were identified as a likely landfall if there were parts of the aircraft left floating. Now this kind of work is obviously going to take some time, although the number may help to identify the aircraft parts—assuming that's what they are—much more quickly than would otherwise be the case.

On a day like today when we receive information about aircraft parts being discovered, there is particular stress on the families of the 239 people who lost their lives in this disaster. We think especially of them. At an Australian level, we have sought to make contact with all of the families, and have, in most cases, to keep them informed of this latest development. And we will continue to ensure that their interests are foremost in the way in which we deal with the issue.

I should point out that while Australia has a particular responsibility in relation to the search for MH370 on the assumption that we are searching in the Australian sea and rescue area, the Reunion Islands are French territory and so the responsibility for primarily investigating this debris rests with the French and, of course, the Malaysians who are the flag carriers of the aircraft. Nonetheless Australia has again offered our assistance in this investigation; we've asked the CSIRO and the Institute of Marine Research to have a look at the photographs and assess whether the barnacles that are evident in those photographs are consistent with something that was floating in the oceans for 16 months or more, and to give us any other advice that might assist in the examination.

The information that we have is consistent with the search that's being undertaken at the present time. It supports the satellite data and the identification of the area in the Southern Indian Ocean as the most likely place where the aircraft could have entered the waters. Of course, a piece of debris could have floated a very, very long way in 16 months, and it is a very, very long way from the Reunion Islands to the place where we think the aircraft entered the water.

Now, this is obviously a very significant development, it's the first real evidence that there is a possibility that a part of the aircraft may have been found. It's too early to make that judgement, but clearly we are treating this as a major lead and seeking to get assurance about what has been found and whether it is indeed linked to the disappearance of MH370.

Question: What's the next step for investigators from Australia? You said that you'd offered help, has that been taken up [indistinct]?

Warren Truss: Well we've taken our own initiative in relation to the photographs to make them available to the relevant scientific institutions. But the management of this new information rests with the French, and they will make decisions about how any evidence is handled, and then how that can be linked to the work that the Malaysians are doing as the flag carrier of the aircraft.

Question: And how have the families reacted to the calls?

Warren Truss: Well obviously this is important news for them. They've waited a very, very long time for any kind of news. Even this is not yet at a stage where anything positive can be said to them, and so they have an anxious wait again. And I feel very much for them, they've been through a lot. Not knowing, not having the opportunity for closure is certainly an enormous burden for the families, and we respect very much the difficult situations they're going through at the present time.

Question: Does the discovery change or affect the search that's being conducted by Australia?

Warren Truss: No. We still believe, on the availability of all the information that's been done, that the search area is the right one. We've refined the boundaries of that search area on a number of occasions as ongoing work is continuing in relation to the satellite data that we have to try and more precisely locate the resting place of the aircraft. That work will continue. In the winter we haven't been able to maintain the same level of intensity in the search because the weather conditions are very poor on that part of the planet. But when the weather improves there'll be a major effort in the same area that we've been working on in the past, the southern part of the identified area. That will remain our target area, and if there has been a discovery of any wreckage associated with the aircraft it is so far away that you cannot reverse its path and with any degree of reliability know where the aircraft entered the water. It's just too far away, too long ago. But we do know that it is credible that wreckage from the search area could have reached the Reunion Islands by now, and so we can't rule it out on those grounds.

Question: So in lieu of any concrete evidence we've heard various theories the plane flew in different directions; if this does prove to be from MH370, does that put all of those theories to bed, the plane is in the Southern Indian Ocean?

Warren Truss: Well it will put some of the theories to bed, but there are a lot of very wild theories that have been around, including that it landed in Russia or it's been sighted in places where way beyond the range of its fuel. So it will put some of those theories to bed, but it won't positively prove that it's in any other location other than I guess the Indian Ocean.