SAINT-ANDRE (France) • The Malaysian authorities confirmed yesterday that plane wreckage washed up on an Indian Ocean island was from a Boeing 777, meaning the part is almost certainly from missing Flight MH370.
The debris, part of a plane wing, could provide the first tangible clue towards unlocking the mystery surrounding the doomed Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane, which disappeared without a trace en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March last year with 239 people on board.
"I believe that we are moving closer to solving the mystery of MH370. This could be the convincing evidence that MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean," Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi told Agence France-Presse.
The MAS flight was one of only three Boeing 777s to have been involved in major incidents, along with the downing of the MH17 over Ukraine last year and the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco airport in 2013 that left three dead.
The wing component found on the French island of Reunion bears the part number "657 BB", according to photos of the debris.
"From the part number, it is confirmed that it is from a Boeing 777 aircraft. This information is from MAS. They have informed me," Mr Abdul Aziz said.
Mr Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the MH370 search, said greater clarity on the origin of the part should be confirmed "within the next 24 hours". He added: "We are increasingly confident that this debris is from MH370."
The wreckage is due to arrive in France today and will be analysed "next week", according to a source in the French investigation team.
An Australian-led search has spent 16 months combing the southern Indian Ocean for the aircraft, but no confirmed physical evidence has ever been found.
Speculation on the cause of its disappearance has focused primarily on a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.
The discovery of the piece of plane debris by a cleaning team on Wednesday sparked fevered speculation, which was heightened by the discovery on the same rocky beach of a piece of torn luggage, a detergent bottle with Indonesian markings and a Chinese bottle of mineral water.
But Australian officials played down the discovery of the luggage, saying it "may just be rubbish".
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss also said that while the part "could be a very important piece of evidence" if it was linked to MH370, using reverse modelling to determine more precisely where the debris may have drifted from was "almost impossible".
"After 16 months, the vagaries of the currents, reverse modelling is almost impossible," Mr Truss said.
The discovery of the debris, which experts said could be a flaperon from a Boeing 777 aircraft, did not mean other parts would start washing up on Reunion or at nearby locations, said Mr Dolan. "We know that the main debris field associated with MH370 is going to be on the bottom of the ocean, not floating on the surface," he said.
Meanwhile, the discovery of the aircraft part has rekindled efforts by the family members of passengers on board the flight to seek greater compensation.
Most of those on board were Chinese. Mr Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer representing the families, told Reuters that more than 30 family members in China have already agreed to sue if the debris is confirmed to be a part of the missing plane.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS