When a wing section of a Boeing 777 washed up on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion last month, the Malaysian government quickly ascribed the part to missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. But an ongoing investigation has failed to verify this claim, and the story just keeps getting weirder.

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Shortly after the flaperon washed up, Boeing engineers confirmed that the wing segment belongs to a 777. And MH370, which went missing in March of 2014, is the only 777 unaccounted for. So case closed, right?

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak figured it was, and on August 5th, he released a statement announcing as much to the world. But minutes later, French investigator Serge Mackowiak countered the prime minister’s remarks, saying that more tests were needed to conclusively determine the wing segment’s origin. Those test results were supposed to come within a day. Then it became a few days. Now it’s been several weeks.

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What’s the hangup? According to New York Magazine, the ID plate that should have been attached to the inboard edge of the flaperon is missing. This plate, affixed to all 777 flaperons, ought to contain a serial number linking the part to MH370. Its absence has not only stymied the verification process, it’s resulted in other aspects of the wing segment coming under (perhaps excessive) scrutiny.

For instance, the flaperon was covered in barnacles. Barnacles everywhere! And people are freaking out about it. Barnacles all over seems to suggest the wing segment spent the last several months suspended beneath the ocean surface. But how?

While it’s easy to imagine a submarine or a scuba diver hovering peacefully 10 or 20 feet under the surface of the water, this is not something that inanimate objects are capable of doing on their own: Either they are more buoyant than water, in which case they float, or they are less buoyant, in which case they sink.

So, how could a six-foot-long chunk of airplane remain suspended beneath the ocean surface for a long period of time? At this point, there aren’t any simple, common-sense answers; the range of possible explanations at this point runs from as-yet-unidentified natural processes to purposeful intervention by conspirators.

There’s certainly a logical explanation for all of this, and we’ll find it eventually — perhaps we’ll even learn a thing or two about barnacle ecology in the process! In the meanwhile, the sleuths of the internet are sure to come up with all sorts of outlandish origin stories for the untagged flaperon. And the fate of flight MH370 remains as mysterious as ever.

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[New York Magazine]


Contact the author at maddie.stone@gizmodo.com or follow her on Twitter.