Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Wednesday that plane debris found on the shore of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean belongs to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Reuters reports.
“Today, 513 days since the plane disappeared, it is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts has conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion is indeed from MH370," the prime minister said in a televised statement that aired early Thursday morning in Malaysia. "We now have physical evidence that, as I announced on 24th March last year, flight MH370 tragically ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
Although Najib said the debris had been "conclusively confirmed" to be part of the missing flight, authorities in France stopped short of issuing final confirmation. French prosecutor Serge Mackowiak said in a press conference shortly after the release of Najib's statement that while experts had a "very strong supposition" that the debris belongs to MH370, they will continue to do further analysis Thursday.
Mackowiak explained that the investigators were able to compare technical specifications of the MH370 flight to the object found in Reunion. He said he couldn't specify when the final analysis would be ready.
The search for MH370 has been ongoing since the flight abruptly lost contact with ground crew and shifted course in the early hours of March 8, 2014. The mysterious disappearance of the plane and the 239 people on board prompted an international search that yielded few results.
"The burden and uncertainty faced by the families during this time has been unspeakable," Najib said Wednesday. "It is my hope that this confirmation, however tragic and painful, will at least bring certainty to the families and loved ones of the 239 people onboard MH370."
Malaysia Airlines said in a separate statement that it had informed family members of the passengers and crew.
"It is indeed a major breakthrough for us in resolving the disappearance of MH370," the airline's statement read. "We expect and hope that there would be more objects to be found which would be able to help resolve this mystery."
The large piece of debris was found on July 29 on Reunion, a small French island east of Madagascar.
Authorities and aviation experts quickly determined that the piece appeared to be from a Boeing 777, the same type of aircraft as MH370. On Aug. 3, the Malaysian government confirmed that the object, a wing piece known as a flaperon, belonged to a plane of that type.
Experts from multiple nations gathered Wednesday in Toulouse, France, and began examining the debris. They are studying details like the unique use of paint on the flaperon to determine whether it matches the planes used by Malaysia Airlines.
Analysts also hope the piece can provide clues to the location of MH370, but experts warn that finding the rest of the wreckage will remain extremely difficult.
Malaysian and Australian authorities have said it is possible ocean currents could have carried the debris found on Reunion Island from the current search area in the Indian Ocean.
The search area for the wreckage shifted several times throughout the investigation, finally settling on a patch of sea off the west coast of Australia that was tens of thousands of square miles large. Several promising leads turned out to be unfruitful. Various objects found in the southern Indian Ocean and believed to have been tied to the plane ended up not being part of MH370.
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