Investigators may know by the end of the week whether an airplane part that washed up on an Indian Ocean island belonged to the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, Australian officials say.
French, Malaysian and Australian officials on Wednesday will begin a thorough examination into the debris, which was discovered last week on a beach at France's Reunion Island, near Madagascar.
Officials have already confirmed the wreckage is a flaperon from the wing of a Boeing 777, the same type of plane that mysteriously vanished in March 2014 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Malaysia.
Authorities are now trying to definitively establish whether the flaperon originated from the missing jet, and whether it provides any clues into where the plane went down and how it crashed.
"Malaysian and French officials may be in a position to make a formal statement about the origin of the flaperon later this week," according to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.
Truss, who is helping lead the search effort, said the discovery has not resulted in any change to the search of the presumed crash site in the remote waters off the southwest coast of Australia.
"Thorough and methodical search efforts will continue to be focused on the defined underwater search area, covering 120,000 square kilometers in the southern Indian Ocean," he said in a statement.
If the flaperon is confirmed to be part of the missing airliner, it could provide vital clues that could help solve what has become one of aviation's greatest mysteries. For instance, if the flaperon is in relatively good condition, it could indicate the plane descended gently or was landed on the water. The types of sea life clinging to the debris could also provide indications as to how long it has been in the water, and where it came from.
Authorities believe Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which was carrying 239 people, was deliberately diverted shortly after taking off, and that someone with knowledge of aviation systems deliberately turned off the plane's tracking devices.