MH370: Then I saw the 'weird thing' on shore, says debris finder

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 30 Jul 2015

Johnny Begue, member of a local shore cleaning association with the remains of a suitcase, found at the same site where he and his fellow members found a piece of missing plane MH370. PHOTO: AFP

SAINT-ANDR, France: Johnny Begue had no idea as he wandered along the shore looking for a pebble to grind up chillies that he would stumble across a piece of plane wreckage which would draw the eyes of the world to his tiny island home.

Begue leads a team of eight people charged with cleaning up the coastline and a popular fitness trail in the town of Saint-Andre on the east of the French island of La Reunion.

During an early morning break on Wednesday he wandered off to find a pebble which he planned to use as a pestle to grind up chillies - a key feature of the melting-pot cuisine on the Indian Ocean island whose white, palm-fringed beaches are a favourite among tourists.

“It was then that I saw a weird thing on the shore,” said Begue, who called his colleagues over to check it out.

“I immediately saw that it was a piece of a plane,” said his colleague Cedric Gobalsoumy.

Investigators checking the debris found on Reunion Island

The two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wreckage, which experts have said appears to be from a wing, was half covered in sand and had barnacles encrusted on its edges.

The group dragged it onto solid ground “to avoid it being swept into the sea”, said Gobalsoumy.

Little did they know the piece of debris would spark a storm of speculation and hope that it could be from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and solve one of aviation’s greatest enigmas.

In the moments after their discovery they thought they would just leave the piece of wreckage for “people walking along the fitness trail and tourists to see”.

But Gobalsoumy said he quickly realised “we can’t do that”.

“A piece of a plane in the sea is not normal. We told ourselves that people could have died in this aircraft and that their families would want to know.”

They decided to alert local police forces.

“Then a colleague went online with his cellphone and searched for information on plane accidents and found the Malaysian story,” said Begue.

The small group of cleaners were not the only ones to make the connection with the missing Malaysian flight and the news quickly spread around the world as investigators scrambled to inspect the debris.

“I didn’t know that by going to find a pestle to crush my chillies I would become famous,” said Begue.

Many are amused by the sudden attention of the world’s media to the sleepy island most often cited in relation to its 18 shark attacks - seven deadly - since 2011.

“For once they are not talking about us because of shark attacks, it is good,” said 23-year-old student Anna Grondin.

“It is crazy, even CNN in America is talking about us and showing the island on a map. It will stop mainlanders (in France) from situating La Reunion among the French Antilles in the Caribbean, said Jean-Marc Alagama, 43.

Malaysian experts have been sent to the island, but authorities have urged caution in jumping to conclusions about the origin of the wing. - AFP

Related stories:

MH370: Malaysia sends team to Reunion Island

Mysterious plane wreckage sparks MH370 speculation

MH370: Malaysian team in France to check on debris, says PM

MH370: Too early to speculate origin of debris, says MAS

MH370: Location of found debris consistent with modelling, says Australia

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