KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - After an anxious wait of nearly 17 months for the slightest clue to unravel the greatest aviation mystery, it is virtually confirmed that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean.
This follows the announcement by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak early on Thursday that a flaperon found on the French Island of Reunion was from flight MH370.
The question now is what happens after this.
Former Malaysia Airlines chief pilot Nik Ahmad Huzlan Nik Hussain said the discovery of the flaperon was the first evidence that the aircraft had actually gone down in the Indian Ocean as predicted by the search team.
"It is the first physical evidence and it strengthens the given pattern of the current flow in the ocean, that it is not impossible for the flaperon to float all the way to the island," he told Bernama.
He said now that it had been confirmed that the flaperon came from the aircraft, the investigating team should draw up an inventory of the possible parts that could float from the ill-fated Boeing 777.
"In case the people on the island have found other debris that could be from the aircraft, the investigating team can identify instantly whether the debris is part of the aircraft," he added.
He said the team should also embark on drift modelling to ascertain the possible path of the debris that could float in the ocean.
"They should draw some sort of computer-generated simulation to see the possible crash sites in the Indian Ocean," he said.
Prof Mohd Harridon Mohamed Suffian, head of research and innovation of Universiti Kuala Lumpur, said the bigger task now was to search for more debris.
"The next step would certainly be a more focused search in the areas off Madagascar and the African coast as these are the possible areas where the debris would be.
"Further tests and analyses on the flaperon to determine whether the aircraft crashed into the ocean or if it exploded in mid-air should be carried out," he said.
Dr Harridon expects investigators to face more challenges in their search. These include finding the entire plane wreckage and recovering the 239 bodies.
"It is going to be very tough and challenging for the search team because to find debris is a very tedious process as some objects are small in nature," he said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, with 239 people on board, disappeared from the radar on March 8 last year about an hour after departing Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The plane was supposed to land in Beijing at 6.30am on the same day.