Air crash investigators will examine a suitcase that washed up on a tiny Indian Ocean island near plane wreckage believed to possibly have come from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says the suitcase was handed to police on Reunion and investigators have made arrangements to retrieve it.
“It may just be rubbish and there is no attached marine life to indicate that it’s been in the water for any great time, but it will be examined,” he told AAP in a statement.
Several experts are convinced the debris is a flaperon from the wing of a Boeing 777, which if proven means it almost certainly belongs to the Malaysia Airlines plane whose disappearance 16 months ago sparked one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
The two-metre long piece of wreckage washed up on a rocky beach on the French island of La Reunion on Wednesday, about 4000 kilometres from the area where flight MH370 was thought to have gone down in March last year with 239 people on board.
Aviation expert Xavier Tytelman said he and other specialists had compared the debris to hundreds of photos and plane blueprints, and found only one possible match: the flaperon which is a mobile part on the edge of the wing of a Boeing 777.
Scientists say there are several plausible scenarios in which ocean currents could have carried a piece of debris from the plane to the island.
As Malaysian investigators rushed to the scene, authorities on Thursday prepared to send the object to France for further examination.
Meanwhile a French military helicopter slowly circled above the island where the debris washed up.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the wreckage found on La Reunion was “very likely” from a Boeing 777 but it remained to be seen if it indeed came from MH370.
The object is expected to be flown to France on Friday for analysis, a judicial source told AFP.
It is likely to be sent to a testing site near the French city of Toulouse on Saturday.
However, as expectations mount over the find, authorities are warning against jumping to conclusions.
“Whatever wreckage is found needs to be further verified before we can further confirm whether it belongs to MH370,” said Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai.
Flight MH370 was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it mysteriously vanished on March 8 last year.
For relatives, torn between wanting closure and believing their loved ones are still somehow alive, the discovery is yet another painful turn.
“It has started all over again, staring at the phone constantly for news,” said Jacquita Gonzales, wife of Patrick Gomes, the flight’s cabin crew supervisor.
Government officials on La Reunion said France’s civil aviation investigating authority BEA has been asked to co-ordinate an international probe into the origin of the debris.
Najib said authorities would send the object to the southern French city of Toulouse to be examined by the BEA, however French sources close to the investigation said it has not been decided where the debris would be analysed.
Further adding to the mystery, a torn fragment of luggage was discovered in the same place as the plane wreckage.
While there have been several accidents in the region, such as a South African Airways Boeing 747 that crashed near the island of Mauritius in 1987, none has involved a Boeing 777.