A policeman and a gendarme stand next to a piece of debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on July 29, 2015. Photo: AFP
A mysterious piece of plane debris washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion on Wednesday, prompting teams of international investigators to examine whether it could be part of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Malaysia has sent a team to verify whether the plane debris could be part of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, its transport minister has said.
The missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished at night over the South China Sea on 8 March 2014, travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can further confirm whether it belongs to MH370,” transport minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters in New York. “So we have dispatched a team to investigate on this issues and we hope that we can identify it as soon as possible.”
The two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wreckage, which appeared to be part of a wing, was found by people cleaning up a beach.
A spokesman for France's BEA crash investigation agency said it was too early to draw conclusions.
"At this point in time the BEA is studying the information on the airplane part found in La Reunion, in coordination with our Malaysian and Australian colleagues, and with the judicial authorities," the spokesman said in an email.
"The part has not yet been identified and it is not possible at this hour to ascertain whether the part is from a B777 and/or from MH370," he said.
The part is roughly 2-2.5 metres in length, according to pictures of the debris. From the photos, it appeared fairly intact and did not have visible burn marks or signs of impact.
Australian investigators are also reportedly working with manufacturer Boeing to identify if the debris came from MH370.
An Australian-led operation has scoured more than 50,000 square kilometres (19,000 square miles) of the seafloor, about 60 percent of a search zone in the Indian Ocean determined via expert analysis of signals from MH370 that were detected by a satellite.
No part of the wreckage has ever been found in one of aviation's great mysteries and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.
Robin Robertson, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the timing and location of the debris made it "very plausible" that it came from the wreckage of MH370, given what was known about Indian Ocean currents.
"It's about the right time for something. It depends on where it went in, but it's about the right time for debris to wash up," Robertson said.