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Investigators are "confident" debris found belongs to missing MH370

A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from the unidentified aircraft
A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from the unidentified aircraft

Air safety investigators have a "high degree of confidence" that a photo of aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean shows a Boeing 777 wing component, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year.

Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the wreckage as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, a US official said.

A French official close to an investigation of the debris said French law enforcement was on site to examine a piece of plane wing found on the French island of Reunion, east of Madagascar, in the western Indian Ocean. A French television network has shown video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris.

If the debris turns out to be from MH370, it will be the first confirmation that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after it vanished on March 8 2014, with 239 people on board while travelling from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing.

A massive multinational search effort of the South Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand proved unsuccessful.

At the United Nations, Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage.

"Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370," he said.

A Malaysia Airlines spokesman said: "Malaysia Airlines is working with the relevant authorities to confirm the matter. At the moment it would be too premature for the airline to speculate the origin of the flaperon."

The last primary radar contact with Malaysia Airlines flight 370 placed its positon over the Andaman Sea about 230 miles north west of the Malaysian city of Penang. Reunion is about 3,500 miles south west of Penang.

The discovery, however, is unlikely to alter the seabed search, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan, who heads the effort, said.

If the find proved to be part of the missing aircraft, it would be consistent with the theory that the plane crashed within the 46,000 square- mile search area, he said.

It was well understood after MH370 disappeared that if there was any floating debris from the plane, Indian Ocean currents would eventually bring it the east coast of Africa, said aviation safety expert John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board. But the debris is unlikely to provide much help in tracing the ocean's currents back to the location of the main wreckage, he added.

"It's going to be hard to say with any certainty where the source of this was," he said.

"It just confirms that the airplane is in the water and hasn't been hijacked to some remote place and is waiting to be used for some other purpose. We haven't lost any 777s anywhere else."

A comprehensive report earlier this year into the plane's disappearance revealed that the battery of the locator beacon for the plane's flight data recorder had expired more than a year before the jet vanished. But the report said the battery in the locator beacon of the cockpit voice recorder was working.

Investigators hope that if they can locate the two recorders they can get to the bottom of what has become one of aviation's biggest mysteries.

The unsuccessful search for Flight 370 has raised concern worldwide about whether airliners should be required to transmit their locations continually via satellite, especially when flying long distances over the ocean.

Apart from the anomaly of the expired battery, the detailed report devoted page after page to describing a flight that started off completely normal.

The 584-page report by a 19-member independent investigation group went into minute details about the crew's lives, including their medical and financial records and training. It also detailed the aircraft's service record, as well as the weather, communications systems and other aspects of the flight. Nothing unusual was revealed.

The 777, first introduced into service in 1995, had had an enviable safety record up until Flight 370. The only prior fatal crash was of an Asiana Airlines flight while landing in San Francisco in 2013 that was later attributed by accident investigators to mistakes by the flight's pilots. Two passengers were killed in the crash and a third was run over by a truck.

Four months after the disappearance of Flight 370, another Malaysia Airlines 777 was shot down over rebel-held portion of Eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard.

Sara Weeks, of Christchurch, New Zealand, whose brother Paul Weeks was on board Flight 370, said it was hard to believe that after so long, a large piece of the plane could actually show up.

"If it is from MH370, then I still have all the same questions. Where is it? Where is the rest of it? What happened to it?" she said.

"I believe we'll find out what happened to it one day, regardless. Somebody knows what happened."

Family members of those on board Flight 370 have been left in agonising limbo since the plane vanished.

"It's a great big gaping hole in everybody's life," Ms Weeks said. "We need to find out what happened to get closure and move on."