LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - Malaysia said on Sunday that airplane debris that washed up on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion has been identified as being from a Boeing 777, the same model as Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which vanished early last year.
“We know the flaperon has been officially identified as being part of a Boeing 777 aircraft,” Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a statement.
“This has been verified by French authorities together with aircraft manufacturer Boeing, United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Malaysian team comprising the Department of Civil Aviation, Malaysia Airlines, and Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370.”
The ministry's statement makes it virtually certain that the flaperon, which is part of a plane wing, was from flight MH370, which disappeared in March last year with 239 people aboard.
Malaysia’s deputy transport minister had previously confirmed the flaperon was from a Boeing 777.
MH370 is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean but no confirmed proof has ever been found. No other Boeing 777 has ever crashed in that part of the world.
Malaysia on Sunday also urged authorities in the Indian Ocean to be on alert for any further plane debris that may wash ashore.
Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation is reaching out to several aviation authorities in territories within the vicinity of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, Liow said.
“This is to allow the experts to conduct more substantive analysis should there be more debris coming on to land, providing us more clues to the missing aircraft.”
The Boeing 777 vanished without a trace in March 2014. There were 239 passengers and crew on board.
The flaperon, which has been suspected to belong to the missing flight, arrived on Saturday at a French laboratory for analysis.
Experts hope that the barnacled 2-2.5m long wing surface and a fragment of luggage also found on Reunion could yield clues as to the fate of the flight.
If confirmed as being from the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight, the discovery would mark the first breakthrough in a case that has baffled aviation experts for 16 months.
An Air France flight carrying the flaperon arrived in France on Saturday for investigators to study its origin. After arriving in Paris, the debris was then transferred by road to a military-run laboratory near the southwestern city of Toulouse that specialises in analysing aviation wreckage.
French investigators are not expected to begin examining the wreckage before Wednesday afternoon and their Malaysian counterparts will also be present, the Paris prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Reports also emerged on Sunday of more debris turning up on the island's shore.
A source close to the French investigation said more pieces of metal debris were found washed up on Reunion and taken into police custody on Sunday, but it is too early to say what they are.
An AFP photographer saw police collect one piece of debris, measuring about 100 square centimetres, on the north of the island on Sunday morning.
A report by the Sky news agency said an object that could be part of a plane had also been found on the island. The report initially said the object appeared to be a door of a plane, but it later said this could not be confirmed.
Separately, another report citing a local beach cleaner said a blue seat had also washed ashore as early as May this year.
Nicolas Ferrier told the Telegraph the item, which looked like a bus seat, was found during his daily patrol looking for rubbish along the sands and rocks of the island's coast.
Ferrier said he thought nothing of the discovery and burned the item along with the other rubbish he found. “It wasn’t until Wednesday that it hit me what it could have been,” Ferrier told Britain's Sunday Telegraph. “It was probably part of that plane.”
He said only he and his wife had known about the find. "I could have found many things that belonged to the plane, and burnt them, without realising. Like the seat," he said.