The Enduring Mystery of Flight MH370

In the 16 months since its disappearance on March 8, 2014, investigators still have not determined what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Finally, a promising lead has emerged. On Wednesday, a fragment of a plane’s wing measuring 9 feet by 3 feet washed ashore in Reunion Island, a French territory in the western Indian Ocean. Investigators say the item—called a “flaperon”—is from a Boeing 777 aircraft, the same type of aircraft as the missing plane. If it’s confirmed to be from MH370, the flaperon would be the first piece of physical evidence discovered since the plane’s disappearance last spring with 239 people on board.

Warren Truss, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, said it was too early to judge whether the fragment belonged to plane. “But clearly we are treating this as a major lead,” he said. The flaperon—which contained a number written on its surface that may refer to the item’s maintenance—will be sent to an aviation office in Toulouse, France, for further investigation. Officials say it will be at least a week before the precise identity of the fragment is known.

Even if, as expected, the fragment is confirmed to have once belonged to MH370, investigators are far from determining what happened to the aircraft. The discovery in Reunion Island, more than 2,000 miles west from the main search area, doesn’t mean the rest of the debris will be nearby: Ocean currents may have pushed other fragments of the plane toward the main search area near Australia, or even somewhere else entirely. And even the recovery of much of the aircraft may not reveal what, precisely, brought the plane down last March.

For the family members of the missing 227 passengers and 12 crew members, the discovery only prolongs an emotional rollercoaster. The absence of physical evidence made it difficult for many to accept their loved ones had died. In January, when the Malaysian government declared the MH370 mystery an accident and pronounced that those on board were presumed dead, many family members reacted with incredulity and disdain, releasing a statement saying they “do not accept this proclamation and will not give up hope until we have definitive proof of a crash and a determination of location—even if it is just one piece of the wreckage.”

Wednesday’s discovery, at least, provides fresh momentum to a search operation that some observers believed had run its course. In June, after the Australian government said it would not expand the geographic scope of its investigation, a rival airline executive said it was only a “matter of time” before the search was called off completely. The appearance of the flaperon renders that possibility moot. But for the families of the missing, this is a mixed blessing. On Thursday, Jacquita Gomes, whose husband had been on MH370, told The Wall Street Journal the existence of physical evidence of the plane would provide her with “some sort of closure.” But, she added, “the other part is no: Let it not be true, because then we can still have hope that there’s a chance that they can all come home.

What If Africa Was a Bar?


A Twitter hashtag invites Africans to say what they think of each other.

A bar in Madagascar Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

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There’s something maddeningly reductive, but also surprisingly instructive, about trying to sum up a country, a complex collective of thousands or millions of people, in just a few words. I direct you to the Reddit prompt “How would you describe your country in 3 words?”, which attracted such replies as “Long, south, spicy” (Chile); “Is not Australia” (New Zealand); “Soccer, Butts, Corruption” (Brazil); “Armed melting pot” (America); and “Stroopwafels, windmills, and wooden shoes” (the Netherlands, and technically five words). The exercise surfaces stereotypes and ignores nuance, but can also whittle perceptions of a nation down to their essence and teach a thing or two along the way. Stroopwafels, for the uninitiated, are thin waffle cookies with a caramel-like filling. They look delicious.

Something similar has been going on ever since Siyanda Mohutsiwa, a writer in Botswana, sent out the following tweet on Monday:

She moved the discussion along with a jab at South Africa’s racial divisions:

And so the Twitter hashtag #IfAfricaWasABar was born, with further digs at South Africa’s haughtiness on the continent:

There were references to Rwanda’s improbable post-genocide prosperity, and its famously pristine streets:

And swipes at newfound, flashy, precarious wealth in various countries:

As well as at ongoing economic woes:

There were expressions of insecurity and obscurity:

Plus allusions to the corrosive legacy of colonialism:

And to the new economic hegemon in the region:

There were mentions of territorial tensions:

And of efforts by power-hungry political leaders to extend their time in office:

Hashtags like #IfAfricaWasABar, Mohutsiwa observed in a YouTube video, can help people in the region talk about themselves and their neighbors in “a lighthearted, not hateful, not angry type of way. I do really believe in pan-Africanism and I don’t think it’s an idea that is dead or an idea that should remain in the ’60s.” Her goal, she added, was to “travel around Africa through the perceptions of other Africans as much as possible, and through the perspectives of other Africans as much as I can, without having to leave my country.”

Still, much like at any physical bar, things could always get raucous or unruly. “Am keeping tabs to see how long before things go downhill,” a Twitter user wrote to Mohutsiwa as the hashtag spread on Twitter. “I think the entire continent is holding its breath,” Mohutsiwa replied.

Nepal, Three Months After the Earthquakes

Three months have now passed since massive twin earthquakes struck Nepal, killing more than 8,800 people, injuring more than 22,000, flattening nearly 600,000 homes, and leaving millions still in need of food, clean water and adequate shelter. Though residents are working to return to their normal lives, Nepal is still reeling from the disasters in April and May. The World Bank announced in June that it will provide up to 500 million dollars for reconstruction. Today, months after the quakes, nearly 3 million survivors, many in mountainous, hard-to-reach areas, still need urgent help, according to a U.N. report published earlier this month. Collected here are images of Nepal’s slow work toward recovery.

The Flying Machines of Flugtag

Since 1992, Red Bull has been organizing Flugtag (“flying day”) events around the world, where participants build and pilot homemade flying machines off a 28-foot-high flight deck above a body of water. Entries are judged for distance, creativity, and showmanship. The aerodynamic qualities of many of the creatively built aircraft are questionable, and most do not so much fly as… plummet. In 2013, the team “The Chicken Whisperers” set a distance record of  258 feet (78.64 meters) in Long Beach, California. Gathered here are images of Flugtag events over the past several years.

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Photos of the Week: 7/18-7/24

An embrace in a Kenyan village, a purification rite on a Japanese shore, Swan Upping in England, tragedy in southern Turkey, a kangaroo hopping through a frosty field in Australia, South Korea’s longest water slide ever, Hellsing cosplay in Brazil, naked tree-hugging in Berkeley, California, a rocket launch in Kazakhstan, and much more.