SYDNEY (AFP) - Authorities hunting for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 said on Friday that they were “increasingly confident” that wreckage found on an Indian Ocean island was from the ill-fated jet, raising hopes of solving one of aviation’s great mysteries.
The 2m-long piece of wreckage has been sent to France for analysis, with hopes high that it could turn out to be the first tangible proof the plane went down in the Indian Ocean.
A commercial Air France flight carrying the debris was due to land at Paris’ Orly airport on Saturday morning at around 6am (12 noon Singapore time).
It will be transported to Toulouse for analysis in a defence ministry laboratory. French officials said analysis of the wing part would begin on Wednesday, along with an examination of parts of a suitcase discovered nearby.
Investigators are hoping they will be able to move closer to solving the perplexing mystery swirling around the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which vanished without a trace 16 months ago with 239 people aboard.
“We are increasingly confident that this debris is from MH370,” Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau which is leading the MH370 search, told AFP.
“The shape of the object looks very much like a very specific part associated only with 777 aircraft.”
Dolan, however, echoed comments on Thursday by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who said the object was “very likely” from a Boeing 777 but cautioned that it remained to be confirmed, in a case notorious for disappointing false leads.
Several experts believe the debris is a Boeing 777 flaperon, a wing part, and that if it is confirmed it almost certainly belonged to the Malaysia Airlines plane, whose disappearance became one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
The debris washed up on the French island of La Reunion, some 4,000km from the oceanic region where MH370 was thought to have gone down in March last year.
The recovered object is expected to be flown to a testing site in France near the city of Toulouse for analysis by aviation authorities and could reach there by Saturday, French sources told AFP.
Authorities involved in the search at sea, guided by the analysis of signals from the plane that were detected by a satellite, believe it went down in the southern Indian Ocean.
But no confirmed physical evidence has ever been found and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.
- Consistent with what we expect -
Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said he remained confident the hunt for MH370 was being conducted in the right area, with wreckage in La Reunion consistent with currents from the zone they are scouring.
“It’s not positive proof, but the fact that this wreckage was sighted on the northern part of the Reunion Island is consistent with the current movements, it’s consistent with what we might expect to happen in these circumstance,” he said.
Truss added: “We remain confident that we’re searching in the right place.”
Valborg Byfield, a scientist at the National Oceanography Centre in Britain, said there were two ocean currents which could have swept the wreckage from the crash site to La Reunion.
“Were the plane to have gone done south of the equator, the debris might have been transported by the South Equatorial Current, which bifurcates as it approaches the African coast, with one stream going south along the eastern coast of Madagascar. This would take it past La Reunion.”
Flight MH370 was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it mysteriously turned off course and vanished on March 8 last year.