Missing plane draws eyes to land of molten lava and killer sharks
Updated: 2015-08-03 07:11
People walk on the beach where a large piece of plane debris was found on Wednesday in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, Aug 1, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
SAINT-DENIS, Reunion - As experts on the Indian Ocean island Reunion studied plane debris for clues in the search for missing flight MH370, scientist Nicolas Villeneuve was making his own discovery: the island's volcano was about to erupt.
Reunion, a part of France that lies in the Indian Ocean around 370 miles east of Madagascar, gained newfound notoriety last week when a beach cleaner stumbled across a barnacled piece of an airplane wing known as a flaperon.
The wreckage was flown on Friday to mainland France where experts hope forensic analysis will uncover if it was part of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished without trace in March 2014 along with 239 passengers and crew.
Hopes that the piece of debris could help solve one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history and end 16 months of painful uncertainty for relatives has briefly turned the global media spotlight on Reunion.
Many of the 800,000 residents have been overwhelmed by the attention placed on their island, where big local stories are usually about shark attacks and volcanic eruptions.
"Before, the only people who knew about this island were scientists and surfers," Villeneuve, 43, told Reuters from the island's volcano observatory, where he is studying the after effects of the latest eruption.
The Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupted at 10:00 am local time (0600 GMT) on Friday, opening up a 800-metre-long crack in its crater and sending hot jets of molten lava spewing up from the peak.
"We heard about the plane but we have our own investigation here," Villeneuve added, pointing at images of glowing lava and thick plumes of smoke.
It could end up being one of the biggest eruptions since 2007 when tremors in the crater lasted weeks and magma reaching temperatures above 1,000 centigrade flowed all the way into the Indian Ocean.
The volcano poses little danger to visitors or residents because the area is evacuated when early warning signs appear and no one lives on the path where lava flows.