— Two senior Australian officials expressed increasing confidence on Friday that debris found on a remote French island this week came from the Malaysian jet that disappeared last year with 239 people aboard, though they cautioned that final confirmation would not come from Australia
The debris found on Wednesday on the island of Réunion off the coast of Madagascar, apparently a piece of a wing, was to be shipped to France
for analysis. But the Australian officials said photographic evidence alone might be enough to establish that it came from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished on March 8, 2014, during a flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur
, the Malaysian capital.
“The photographs available are of such detail that it may be possible to make an identification without further physical identification, but that will be a matter for the French and the Malaysian authorities,” Warren Truss, Australia’s deputy prime minister, said at a news conference on Friday.
Martin Dolan, who has led the team searching for wreckage from Flight 370, a Boeing 777, on the seabed off the coast of Western Australia
, said that in addition to detailed photographs of the debris, investigators had a great deal of information about the part it is believed to be and the numbers that would be inscribed on it.
“So there is a lot that can be done on what this is,” Mr. Dolan, head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said in an interview. “If it is, as seems most probable, a very specific trailing-edge device, something on the back part of a wing, then it looks very much like a thing called a flaperon, and flaperons are only on 777 aircraft.”
Flight 370 is the only aircraft of that kind known to be missing, and Mr. Dolan said his agency was not aware of any other plane that had lost a flaperon, one of the control surfaces that pilots use to guide the aircraft in flight. “It is already starting to look very like MH370, but we still have to take that last step,” Mr. Dolan said.
If confirmed, it would be the first piece of wreckage discovered from the missing jet, which investigators say veered off course during its flight to Beijing, crossed the Malay Peninsula and then flew south for hours.
Analyses of electronic data indicated that it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, but search efforts there, led by the Australians, have found no trace of it. Investigators have said that ocean currents could have carried the debris to Réunion in the intervening months.
Mr. Dolan said that once his agency was certain that the part found on Réunion came from Flight 370, it would use whatever information was relevant in the search of the seabed off Western Australia. That search is Australia’s responsibility, he said, but it would be up to French or Malaysian officials to make a public announcement identifying the part. Malaysia is responsible for a broader investigation into the disappearance of the jet.
Mr. Truss told reporters that if the object is from Flight 370, it establishes beyond any doubt that the aircraft is resting at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, despite various theories to the contrary.
“The important thing is to give closure to the families who lost loved ones,” Mr. Truss said. “We think especially of them now. I know it is a time of uncertainty. They can be assured Australia will continue to exercise every possible endeavor to find the aircraft and support the current investigations.”