Debris found by Johnny Begue, who made a crucial discovery in the search for MH370. File picture
Debris found by Johnny Begue, who made a crucial discovery in the search for MH370. File picture

Cruel twist for MH370 hunter

Exclusive: The man who made the most crucial discovery in the search for missing Malaysian airliner MH370 says it has destroyed his life.

 

Johnny Begue is disappointed his finds didn’t lead to answers to the MH370 mystery. File picture
Johnny Begue is disappointed his finds didn’t lead to answers to the MH370 mystery. File picture

 

Johnny Begue, 52, who found the Boeing 777 flaperon while working as a beach cleaner on the remote Indian Ocean island of Reunion, yesterday said he is torn about what happened to him.

Mr Begue's July 2015 discovery was the first concrete evidence of what happened to MH370 and came 15 months after the plane disappeared with 239 passengers and crew aboard.

He said that while he hopes that it eventually helped some family members find peace, "it is a pity that this flaperon did not allow us to discover what became of the plane".

And while he was glad to meet with the families of three passengers, who travelled to Reunion at the end of 2015, his personal circumstances were much the worse for the experience.

 

 

"The flaperon got me in trouble," Mr Begue said through an interpreter.

Jobless and notorious, having been accused by many islanders of taking money for paid press interviews (there is no indication this occurred), Mr Begue said he was much happier before all of the attention.

"In 2015 I was proud," he said.

"Now I always stay the same. Everyone here thinks I'm a star. They think I made money from this discovery. The reality is that I am jobless. The mayor of Saint-André promised me a job. I never had it.

 

Johnny Begue with the recovered remains of a bag believed to be from flight MH370. Picture: AFP
Johnny Begue with the recovered remains of a bag believed to be from flight MH370. Picture: AFP

 

"People still laugh at me. People believe that I have money, that I was paid by journalists to give interviews. They think I got millions of dollars. I would never have made a cent on people's misfortune.

"I am someone happy before, when I was unknown. I am a small Creole. I am not a star who wanted to make La Réunion known.

"I feel abandoned today. I just need a little job to live."

 

INSIDE THE SEARCH FOR MH370

It was the first key to aviation's most baffling mystery and it turned up thousands of kilometres from where it was supposed to be.

When council worker Johnny Begue spotted a rusted wing-part on the tiny Indian Ocean island of Reunion, the hunt for MH370 had been raging 15 months, wild theories flourished and there were fears we would never learn what happened to the 239 passengers and crew aboard.

The discovery of the 6ft long, barnacle encrusted flaperon changed everything: for the families who lost loved ones, for the most costly and extensive search in aviation history, and for Mr Begue himself, who says today his life was never the same.

 

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing in 2014.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing in 2014.

 

On the morning of July 29, 2015, the Australian-led underwater search was focused in a huge arc of the southern Indian Ocean off Perth where modelling of the last communications suggested MH370 had disappeared.

In the absence of answers to what made the plane go missing on March 8, 2014, conspiracists - and even some hopeful family members - pondered whether the plane and its cargo had been hijacked and was anywhere from North Korea to Russia, Pakistan to the US military atoll of Diego Garcia.

Others hypothesised that the pilot or co-pilot had taken the plane down, that a worn-out oxygen supply had rendered everyone aboard unconscious and the Boeing 777 had simply coasted into the ocean.

 

A family member of a passenger from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 reacts at Lido Hotel in Beijing, China. Picture: Getty Images
A family member of a passenger from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 reacts at Lido Hotel in Beijing, China. Picture: Getty Images

 

It's hard to overstate the scope of the enigma of MH370 at the point of Mr Begue's discovery, and it made headlines around the world. As part of the international media pack that was dispatched to Reunion, I headed straight to the coast where Mr Begue and his cleaning crew found the 1.8m long flaperon.

The dark grey, fist-size pebbles that make up the beach in the bay of St Denis are a filter to mountains of trash in the West Indian Ocean. Between tiny Mauritius and lumbering Madagascar, the pinprick French territory is one of the only distinct land masses between Australia's west coast and Africa.

Cleaning the beaches was a full-time job for Mr Begue and his colleagues, and once we started looking at the flotsam on the beach, it was hard not to see potential clues everywhere.

Amid the broken toys, empty water bottles, strips of plastic and unrecognisable rubbish were handbags, a mangled shoe, gnarled metal, dozens of strips of what could have been vertical blinds.

 

Independent MH370 investigator Blaine Alan Gibson. Picture: Facebook
Independent MH370 investigator Blaine Alan Gibson. Picture: Facebook

 

One afternoon, about a week after Mr Begue found the flaperon, I watched as a group of Malaysian officials in business-dress stumbled on the rocky beach as they frantically plucked pieces of the litter into their arms. When I approached to ask who they were, one of them was emotional as told me he didn't want to be identified and that the investigation was in the hands of French authorities.

In the first couple of days after his discovery, Mr Begue gave a few interviews to local reporters, but with literal planes-full of arriving press, the attention quickly became overwhelming and he retreated to his modest home and refused to speak publicly.

When I visited, I spoke outside to his wife Marie, who said the pair had preyed for the families of MH370 even before there was any connection to Reunion.

"We would talk about how sad it was, how awful for the families to not know what happened," Mrs Begue said.

 

 

 

"It was on our minds a lot and I remember Johnny saying maybe the sea will bring the answers here and we can help them. We feel it was a plan from God that Johnny would find something, and I am happy that he has been able to help."

But in a phone interview yesterday, Mr Begue, 52, said through an interpreter that he was torn about the discovery.

On the one hand he hopes that it eventually helped some family members find peace, but "it is a pity that this flaperon did not allow us to discover what became of the plane".

And while he was glad to meet with the families of three passengers, who travelled to Reunion at the end of 2015, and share local rum with them, his personal circumstances were much the worse for the experience.

 

"The flaperon got me in trouble," Mr Begue said through an interpreter.

The contract for the minimum-wage beach-cleaning job ended in 2016 and Mr Begue said he had since been unable to find work because he is notorious, having been accused by many islanders of taking money for paid press interviews (there is no indication this occurred).

Mr Begue said he was much happier before all of the attention.

"In 2015 I was proud," he said.

"Now I always stay the same. Everyone here thinks I'm a star. They think I made money from this discovery. The reality is that I am jobless. The mayor of Saint-André promised me a job. I never had it.

 

Australian Transport Safety Bureau's final report, The Operational Search for MH370, published in October 2017, shows the
Australian Transport Safety Bureau's final report, The Operational Search for MH370, published in October 2017, shows the "x marks the spot" moment, where the flight meets the famous 7th arc.

 

"People still laugh at me. People believe that I have money, that I was paid by journalists to give interviews. They think I got millions of dollars. I would never have made a cent on people's misfortune.

"I am someone happy before, when I was unknown. I am a small Creole. I am not a star who wanted to make La Réunion known.

"I feel abandoned today. I just need a little job to live."

 

 

 

 

 



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