Indian Ocean debris almost certainly from Boeing 777

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Australian Deputy PM: Debris Found in Indian Ocean a 'Major Lead'

Plane debris washed up on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean is almost certainly part of a Boeing 777, a Malaysian official and aviation experts said, potentially providing some answers for families of those aboard last year's vanished flight MH370.

Malaysian investigators are due in Reunion on Friday and the object, identified by numerous aviation experts as part of a wing, is then due to be sent to a French military laboratory near Toulouse for checks, French police sources said.

National carrier Malaysia Airlines was operating a Boeing 777 on the ill-fated flight, which disappeared in March last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history. It was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

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Indian Ocean debris almost certainly from Boeing 777
Joao de Abreu, President of Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM), holds a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo on March 3, 2016. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Joao de Abreu, president of Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM), holds a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo on March 3, 2016. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on March 3, 2016 shows a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on March 3, 2016 shows a piece of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast of Mozambique at Mozambique's Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) in Maputo. A hunk of suspected aircraft wreckage found off the east African coast will be sent to Australia where experts will examine whether it is a new piece in the puzzle of missing flight MH370, officials said. The fragment was reportedly found near Mozambique and could provide clues in the huge and costly Australia-led investigation into what happened to the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared nearly two years ago. / AFP / ADRIEN BARBIER (Photo credit should read ADRIEN BARBIER/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo dated Wednesday, July 29, 2015, French police officers inspect a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (AP Photo/Lucas Marie)
Journalists stand next to a police officer holding a piece of plastic found on the sea front of Saint-Denis, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on August 4, 2015. Last week a wing part washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and has been taken to France to for physical and chemical analysis. In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds a piece of plastic found on the sea front of Saint-Denis, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on August 4, 2015. Last week a wing part washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and has been taken to France to for physical and chemical analysis. In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents look for debris on a beach of the Etang de Bois Rouge on the sea front of Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on August 4, 2015. Last week a wing part washed up on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and has been taken to France to for physical and chemical analysis. In one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history, MH370 inexplicably veered off course in March 2014 and disappeared from radars, sparking a colossal hunt that has until now proved fruitless. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Johnny Begue (C), who stumbled across a piece of plane wreckage from the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on the beach on July 29, 2015, help repair the costline in Saint-Andre on the east of the French island of La Reunion, on August 6, 2015. The two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wing, was half covered in sand and had barnacles encrusted on its edges. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, gestures before speaking at a special press conference announcing the findings for the ill fated flight MH370 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, early Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. Experts have confirmed that the debris found on Reunion Island last week was that of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that went missing last year, Malaysia's prime minister said early Thursday. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Police officers inspect metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 2, 2015 shows metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, close to where where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers leave the scene with container holding metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers inspect and photograph metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers for an association responsible for maintaining paths to Jamaica beach from being overgrown by shrubs, search the beach for possible additional airplane debris near the shore where an airplane wing part was washed up, in the early morning near to Saint-Denis on the north coast of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. A barnacle-encrusted wing part that washed up on the remote Indian Ocean island earlier could help solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries, as investigators work to connect it to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that vanished more than a year ago with 293 people aboard. (AP Photo/Fabrice Wislez)
Police officers inspect metallic debris found on a beach in Saint-Denis on the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean on August 2, 2015, close to where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week. A piece of metal was found on La Reunion island, where a Boeing 777 wing part believed to belong to missing flight MH370 washed up last week, said a source close to the investigation. Investigators on the Indian Ocean island took the debris into evidence as part of their probe into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, however nothing indicated the piece of metal came from an airplane, the source said. AFP PHOTO / RICHARD BOUHET (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers for an association responsible for maintaining paths to the beaches from being overgrown by shrubs, search the beach for possible additional airplane debris near the shore where an airplane wing part was washed up, in the early morning near to Saint-Andre on the north coast of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Friday, July 31, 2015. A barnacle-encrusted wing part that washed up on the remote Indian Ocean island could help solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries, as investigators work to connect it to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that vanished more than a year ago with 293 people aboard. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Workers for an association responsible for maintaining paths to the beaches from being overgrown by shrubs, search the beach for possible additional airplane debris near the area where an airplane wing part was washed up, in the early morning near Saint-Andre on the north coast of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Friday, July 31, 2015. A barnacle-encrusted wing part that washed up on the remote Indian Ocean island could help solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries, as investigators work to connect it to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that vanished more than a year ago with 293 people aboard. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Johnny Begue, 46, who says he found the piece of aircraft debris that is being investigated, walks on Bois-Rouge beach where the debris was washed up, near to Saint-Andre on the north coast of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Friday, July 31, 2015. The fragment may be the first clue as to what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared last year with 293 people aboard. Massive search efforts have failed to find any sign of the plane, and authorities are analyzing the piece to see if it matches the missing plane. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
In this photo dated Wednesday, July 29, 2015, French police officers carry a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (AP Photo/Lucas Marie)
In this photo dated Wednesday, July 29, 2015, a piece of debris from a plane is pictured in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. A 6-foot long piece of an airplane was found off Reunion Island on Wednesday by people cleaning the beach. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (AP Photo)
Police carry 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. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
This image taken from video, shows a piece of debris from a plane, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Saint-Andre, Reunion. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (Reunion 1ere via AP) FRANCE OUT
In this photo dated Wednesday, July 29, 2015, French police officers carry a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (AP Photo/Lucas Marie)
Police and gendarmes carry 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. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 30: Debris found on the island of Reunion east of Madagascar, appears to be part of Malaysia Airlines MH370 that disappeared in 2014. (Photo by Graphic: Ahmet Burak Ozkan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
In this image taken from video, police officers looking over a piece of debris from a plane, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Saint-Andre, Reunion. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (Reunion 1ere via AP) FRANCE OUT
This image taken from video shows a piece of debris from a plane, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Saint-Andre, Reunion. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (Reunion 1ere via AP) FRANCE OUT
In this his image taken from video, police officers looking at a piece of debris from a plane, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Saint-Andre, Reunion. Air safety investigators, one of them a Boeing investigator, have identified the component as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing. (Reunion 1ere via AP) FRANCE OUT
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. The two-metre-long debris, which appears to be a piece of a wing, was found by employees of an association cleaning the area and handed over to the air transport brigade of the French gendarmerie (BGTA), who have opened an investigation. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO / YANNICK PITOU (Photo credit should read YANNICK PITOU/AFP/Getty Images)
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The debris was found on Wednesday washed up on Reunion, a volcanic island of 850,000 people that is a full part of France known as an "overseas department", located in the Indian Ocean near Africa.

It is roughly 3,700 km (2,300 miles) away from the broad expanse of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia, where search efforts have focused, but Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said currents could have carried wreckage that way.

"The location is consistent with the drift analysis provided to the Malaysian investigation team, which showed a route from the southern Indian Ocean to Africa."

Aviation experts who have seen widely circulated pictures of the debris said it may be a moving wing surface known as a flaperon, situated close to the fuselage.

"It is almost certain that the flaperon is from a Boeing 777 aircraft. Our chief investigator here told me this," Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi told Reuters.

There have been four serious accidents involving 777s in the 20 years since the widebody jet came into service. Only MH370 is thought to have crashed south of the equator.

"No hypothesis can be ruled out, including that it would come from a Boeing 777," the Reunion prefecture and the French Justice Ministry said in a joint statement.

PART OF WING?

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said a number stamped on the 2 to 2.5 meters (6.5 to 8 foot) chunk of debris might speed up its verification.

"This kind of work is obviously going to take some time although the number may help to identify the aircraft parts, assuming that's what they are, much more quickly than might otherwise be the case," he said.

France 2 television showed a picture of the wing part with the figures "657 BB" stamped on its interior. That corresponds to a code in the 777 manual identifying it as a flaperon and telling workers to place it on the right wing, according to a copy of a Boeing document that appeared on aviation websites.

A source close to the French investigation said the plan was to transfer the wing flap to France's European mainland, along with a fragment of luggage that had also been found in the area.

"We're trying to get the debris of wing and the bag fragment sent off as soon as possible, if possible Friday, arriving probably on Saturday," said the source. The wing part would be sent to a military unit near Toulouse, while the luggage fragment may go to a police unit specialized in DNA tests.

Investigators believe someone may have deliberately switched off MH370's transponder before diverting it thousands of miles off course. Most of the passengers were Chinese. Beijing said it was following developments closely.

For the families of those on board, lingering uncertainty surrounding the fate of the plane has been agony. Some said the discovery of debris would still not solve the mystery.

"Even if we find out that this piece of debris belongs to MH370, there is no way to prove that our people were with that plane," said Jiang Hui, 41, whose father was on the flight.

Ghyslain Wattrelos, a French businessman whose wife and two children were on the missing flight, told French BFMTV the discovery of the debris had been "extremely painful".

"This doesn't give hope, this is a moment I have been fearing," he said. "As long as there wasn't any evidence of a crash, of wounded, of dead or whatever, there was a little glimmer of hope for us."

Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer representing some of the passengers' families, said a group of around 30 relatives had agreed they would proceed with a lawsuit against the airline if the debris was confirmed to be from MH370.

Daniel Rose, a partner at Kreindler & Kreindler LLP in New York, which is representing more than 50 victims' families, said the discovery is unlikely to trigger a wave of lawsuits.

Families are pursuing a settlement with insurer Allianz through Kreindler, he said, but the firm could sue before a two-year statute of limitations under the Montreal Convention, which governs such accidents, expires in March 2016.

Families want to sue in more favorable U.S. courts, a move that for most families would require arguing that an aircraft fault was at least partly to blame for the crash, he said.

"They're specifically not looking to have to file in China," Rose said. "They're much more interested in getting answers and the best place to do that is in the U.S."

One expert in psychology said the discovery could also give families a chance to grieve at last.

"If this is indeed debris from the jet, then it will provide families with much needed closure," said Nancy Smyth, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

OCEAN CURRENTS

According to photographs, the piece of debris is fairly intact and with no burn marks or signs of impact. Flaperons help pilots control an aircraft while in flight. Boeing Co declined to comment on the photos.

Oceanographers said vast, rotating currents sweeping the southern Indian Ocean could have deposited wreckage from MH370 thousands of kilometers from where the plane is thought to have crashed.

If confirmed to be from MH370, experts will try to retrace the debris drift back to its source. But they caution that the discovery was unlikely to provide any more precise information about the aircraft's final resting place.

"This wreckage has been in the water - if it is MH370 - for well over a year so it could have moved so far that it's not going to be that helpful in pinpointing precisely where the aircraft is," Australia's Truss told reporters.

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 MH370, given what was known about Indian Ocean currents.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Emmanuel Jarry and Matthias Blamont in PARIS, Lincoln Feastand Swati Pandey in SYDNEY, Alwyn Scott in NEW YORK, Siva Govindasamy in SINGAPORE, Sui Lee Wee in BEIJING and Praveen Menon in KUALA LUMPUR; Writing by Dean Yates and Mark John; Editing by Peter Graff, Bill Rigby and Lisa Shumaker)

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