JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African teenager vacationing in Mozambique may have found part of a wing from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which his family dismissed as "rubbish" and his mother nearly threw away, he said Friday.
On Dec. 30, Liam Lotter was strolling on a beach in southern Mozambique, near the resort town of Xai Xai, when he spotted a gray piece of debris washed up on the sand, he recalled. It had rivet holes along the edge and the number 676EB stamped on it, convincing him he had found a piece of an aircraft. So he dragged the piece back to his family's vacation home.
"It was so waterlogged at that time, it was quite heavy. I struggled to pick it up," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. The curved piece of debris is about 3.3 feet (one meter) long, and about half that length wide, his father Casper Lotter said.
His parents dismissed it as a "piece of rubbish" that was probably debris from a boat, with his uncle making fun of him for dragging it around, but the 18-year-old insisted on bringing it back to South Africa to research the fragment.
"He was adamant he wanted to bring it home because it had a number on it," said Casper Lotter, adding that his son is not an aviation enthusiast but was simply drawn to the piece of debris.
"It just grabbed him for some weird reason," the father said in a telephone interview with the AP.
Back home in Wartburg in KwaZulu-Natal province, the piece was stored with the family's angling gear and almost forgotten as Lotter focused on his final year in high school. His mother even tried to throw it out, he said.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 jet vanished with 239 people on board while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
It was only when Lotter read about another piece of possible debris from the missing airliner also found in Mozambique, about 186 miles (300 kilometers) from where he had made his discovery, that he resumed his probe.
"I was very shocked — Mozambique, similar color, similar area," the teen said of the piece discovered by an American man. "He described it similarly to what I'm looking at right now."
Last week, Lotter's mother Candace contacted Australian aviation authorities and they said the number on the part indicates it may belong to a Boeing 777, according to Casper Lotter. Australian authorities contacted South African counterparts to have the part examined by experts.
The honeycomb structure indicates it is either the leading edge of a wing, or a horizontal stabilizer.
"We have arranged for collection of the part, which will be sent to Australia as they are the ones appointed by Malaysia to identify parts found," Kabelo Ledwaba, spokesman South African Civil Aviation Authority, wrote in a text message to the AP.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the agency heading the deep sea search for the missing airliner, was coordinating with the South African and Malaysian governments to bring the piece to the Australian capital Canberra for expert examination, ATSB spokesman Dan O'Malley said on Saturday.
The ATSB had spoken to the Lotter family and had seen photographs of the piece, but would not comment on the likelihood of it being part of a Boeing 777, O'Malley said.
The piece will be examined in Canberra by experts from Australia, Malaysia and Boeing, he said.
The same experts will also examine debris on its way to Canberra that was also found in Mozambique last month by Blaine Gibson, a Seattle lawyer and part-time adventurer.
Gibson found what could be a piece of tail section from the missing aircraft. The piece Gibson found had "NO STEP" written on it.
The 58-year-old's search for the missing jet has taken him to beaches in the Maldives, Mauritius, Cambodia, Myanmar and the French island of Reunion, he told The Associated Press. Gibson also travelled to Malaysia to attend a commemorative ceremony held on Sunday by the families of passengers on board the airliner.
The South African teenager hopes his find will help the grieving families, and inspire others who may have found fragments of the missing plane to hand them over to authorities.
He said he would be pleased "just for them to know that we're finding evidence, finding out how it happened, where it happened, just to give them some closure."