Malaysia believes part of a plane's wing that washed up on the remote French island of Reunion off Madagascar is from a Boeing 777 but could not confirm if it belonged to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 that mysteriously vanished 16 months ago.
The news brought a mix of hope and anguish to relatives of the 239 people aboard the March 8, 2014, flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, who are anxious to know what happened to the plane.
"Initial reports suggest that the debris is very likely to be from a Boeing 777, but we need to verify if it is from Flight MH370," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement yesterday.
Aviation experts who have seen pictures of the part said it may be a moving wing surface known as a flaperon, situated close to the fuselage, Reuters reported.
Datuk Seri Najib said that to accelerate investigations, the part would be shipped by France to Toulouse, the nearest office of its civil aviation investigation body BEA - where a Malaysian team was headed for yesterday evening. A separate team arrived in Reunion yesterday, Agence France- Presse reported.
The New York Times also said no other 777 was known to be missing, and cited a French official as saying the barnacle-encrusted object was about 2.5m long and 1m wide.
Not including MH370, there have been four serious accidents involving 777s in the 20 years since the jet came into service - three involved runway accidents and the fourth was the downing of MH17 over Ukraine last year.
The disappearance of MH370 is one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history, leading to a search costing hundreds of millions of dollars in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia, roughly 3,700km from Reunion. Part of a bag was also found yesterday on Reunion not far from the plane debris.
Some of the relatives of those on board - two thirds of whom were Chinese nationals - said yesterday that they were doubtful about the discovery of the flaperon.
"It's the other side of the Indian Ocean. That's a huge question. Looking at the video and what has been found, it doesn't seem likely," Mr Lee Khim Fatt, whose stewardess wife Foong Wai Yueng was on MH370, told The Straits Times.
"The manpower and other resources they have thrown into this (search) is huge, but what they have found is so little and it may still not be the (plane's) debris," Mr Hong Xiufang, whose son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were on the plane, was reported as saying by Agence France-Press.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters a part number had been found on the flaperon that could help identify the plane it came from.