Airplane debris discovered Wednesday on the coast of the French island of Réunion is found to belong to a Boeing 777, a Malaysian official confirmed to AFP Friday. He felt sure that it is from the MH370 flight that disappeared more than a year ago.
A matching part number "657 BB" solidified the theory from Wednesday, when the wreckage was first recovered.
"From the part number, it is confirmed that it is from a Boeing 777 aircraft," Malaysian Deputy Travel Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi told AFP. "This information is from MAS (Malaysia Airlines). They have informed me."
Air safety investigators expressed a "high degree of confidence" Wednesday that photos of the debris showed a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared on March 8, 2014, an unnamed U.S. official told the Associated Press.
The portion of wing has been identified as a flaperon from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777. There are no other 777 planes known to be missing worldwide.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement Thursday, it was "very likely" the debris was from a Boeing 777, but urged caution, saying it was "too early to speculate" whether or not the debris belonged to the missing jetliner.
Razak said the debris would be sent to the offices of the French authority responsible for civil aviation accident investigations (BEA) in Toulouse, where a Malaysian team was heading. Another Malaysian team is also traveling to Réunion.
"It is almost certain that the flaperon is from a Boeing 777 aircraft," Kaprawi told Reuters on Thursday. "Our chief investigator here told me this."
Kaprawi said it would take "less than two days to verify if it is so and whether it is from MH370."
The Australian government — which has played a major role in the ongoing search for Flight 370 — said it was aware of the debris discovery, but that Malaysia was in charge of the investigation, with assistance from Boeing.
"It's the first real evidence that there is a possibility that a part of the aircraft may have been found," Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss told reporters. "It's too early to make that judgment, but clearly we are treating this as a major lead."
If it determined that the wing fragment is from Flight 370, "it would be consistent with other analysis and modeling that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern Indian Ocean," Truss said.
The wing fragment was discovered by public workers cleaning up the coastline near the town of Saint-André on the French island, which sits in the Indian Ocean near the island of Madagascar.
L'Info.re reported authorities arrived on scene shortly after the discovery was made, taking it to a local airport for examination.
The piece of the wing is reportedly 6.5 feet long and 3.2 feet wide.
The disappearance of MH370 last year captivated the world. The plane, which departed from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board, vanished from radar screens.
Analysis of satellite communications eventually determined the plane had flown far off course, heading into the southern Indian Ocean. Aviation experts suspect the flight eventually ran out of fuel before crashing into the sea.
The airline said there were no survivors and Australian officials spent months scanning the ocean floor in search of wreckage from the Boeing 777, finding nothing.
On his blog, French aviation expert Xavier Tytelman wrote that those who have reviewed pictures of the wing believe it probably belongs to an airliner.
After comparing designs of the Boeing 777 wing with the Réunion debris, Tytelman said "the similarity is incredible."
The French Justice Ministry and Réunion prefecture said in a joint statement that "no hypothesis can be ruled out, including that it would come from a Boeing 777."
Malaysia Airlines also issued a statement, saying it was too early to determine the source of the wing fragment.
"We have had many false alarms before, but for the sake of the families who have lost loved ones, and suffered such heartbreaking uncertainty, I pray that we will find out the truth so that they may have closure and peace," Razak said Thursday. "I promise the families of those lost that whatever happens, we will not give up."