TOULOUSE (France) • More than a year after flight MH370 mysteriously vanished, experts in France have begun examining a washed-up wing part that likely belonged to the doomed plane and could provide a breakthrough in one of aviation's greatest enigmas.
Australia said the official word on whether the plane part is from flight MH370 is expected later this week, while reiterating that it would continue hunting for the main debris field in the southern Indian Ocean.
"Malaysian and French officials may be in a position to make a formal statement about the origin of the flaperon later this week," said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss yesterday.
He added that an expert from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is coordinating the search for the Malaysia Airlines jet, was involved in examining the wing part when the case containing it was opened.
French and Malaysian experts, Boeing employees and representatives from China were also on hand to determine if it came from the jet that vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March last year.
Mr Truss added that Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, had confirmed that drift modelling showed debris could have been carried by wind and currents to La Reunion island, some 4,000km from the region where MH370 was thought to have gone down.
"I am advised that Australia's CSIRO drift modelling, commissioned by the ATSB, confirms that material from the current search area could have been carried to La Reunion, as well as other locations, as part of a progressive dispersal of floating debris through the action of ocean currents and wind," he said.
"For this reason, thorough and methodical search efforts will continue to be focused on the defined underwater search area, covering 120,000 sq km, in the southern Indian Ocean."
Australia has been leading the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines plane, with satellite and other data pointing to it coming down in the southern Indian Ocean.
Ships have been scouring more than 50,000 sq km of deep ocean floor for evidence, although none has so far been found. The authorities plan to search a total of 120,000 sq km.
Meanwhile, the Australian body leading the search said yesterday that initial models of where potential debris from the missing passenger jet might first wash up had incorrectly identified the first possible landfall of debris as the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in the first weeks of July last year.
Models run by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in November last year and updated last month found, however, that an Indonesia landfall was highly unlikely.