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Likely MH370 Piece Was Left on South African Beach Due to Smell

Listen to Air Traffic Control Interaction With Flight MH370 7:04

A retired doctor discovered a likely piece of Malaysia Airlines MH370 on a beach — but left it in the sand because it smelled so bad, local media reported.

A photograph of the barnacle-encrusted piece found by Schalk Lückhoff in South Africa was released Tuesday by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is coordinating the search for the missing airliner.

Image: Suspected piece of Flight MH370
An aircraft engine cowling stencilled with the Rolls-Royce logo that is believed to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Schalk Lückhoff / via Australian Transport Safety Bureau

The ATSB's release drew attention to an interview Lückhoff gave with Afrikaans-language broadcaster Netwerk24 last week, in which he explained why he had not collected the object or reported it to authorities.

He told Netwerk24: "It was the only object on the empty sands. It was smelly because it was encrusted in rotting mussels so I didn't handle it, I just took a photograph. It did not occur to me this could be a piece of a plane's insignia ... After the next high [tide] I didn't see it anymore and assumed it had been taken back into the sea."

Lückhoff took the photo in South Afirca's Mossel Bay on December 23, according to the ATSB. Barnacles and sand could be seen partially covering a distinctive Rolls-Royce "RR" stencil, likely from one of MH370's two engines.

But three months later the very same piece was found again in Mossel Bay again, this time by South African archeologist Neels Kruger. The object had apparently been shorn of its barnacles and seaweed, and the 35-year-old contacted authorities.

"When I flipped it around, I didn't know immediately what it was but just thought, 'Oh my word!'" he told The Associated Press at the time.

Plane debris found on Mozambique beach 'almost certainly' from MH370 0:32

The object is one of four washed up across South Africa, Mozambique and the Mauritian island of Rodrigues — all of which authorities say "almost certainly" came from MH370.

The only confirmed piece from the stricken jetliner was a wing flap found on Reunion Island, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, in July.