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Plane Debris Arrives in France for MH370 Probe

Police officers escort an airport vehicle transporting what is believed to be debris from a Boeing 777 plane that washed up on Reunion Island, at Roland Garros airport in Saint-Marie, Reunion Island, July 31, 2015.

Airplane debris that washed up on an Indian Ocean island that is believed to be from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 arrived in France Saturday.

A truck carrying the debris -- a 2-meter-long (6.5-feet) piece of the wing known as a flaperon -- left Orly, near Paris, for a French military site in Balma, in southwestern France, near Toulouse.

The lab, staffed by 600 experts, specializes in analyzing aviation wreckage.

At the site, French aviation experts will try to establish whether the wing piece was part of the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

FILE - French police officers carry a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island, July 29, 2015.
FILE - French police officers carry a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island, July 29, 2015.

Under protection

French authorities have imposed extraordinary secrecy, putting the piece of wreckage under police protection in the hours before it left the island of Reunion.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told Reuters in Kuala Lumpur Saturday that additional Malaysian officials were headed to Reunion to look for more debris and others would go to France.

Air safety investigators, including one from Boeing, have identified the component as a flaperon from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official said. The official wasn't authorized to be publicly identified.

Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, told reporters Friday authorities hoped to confirm the origin of the piece in the coming hours.

"If the flaperon does belongs to MH370 it is actually in accordance with the drift pattern seen in the Southern Indian Ocean. But we do not want to speculate. We will wait for verification from the French authorities," he said.

If the serial number on the flaperon confirms that it is from Flight 370 then the laboratory can use sophisticated tools to try to glean more information about the causes of the crash, such as whether its shape corresponds more to a mid-air explosion or a crash into the ocean.

Reuters reported a fragment of luggage that was also found in the area is being flown to France with the aircraft debris and will be sent to a unit outside Paris that specializes in DNA tests.

Disappeared in 2014

MH370 mysteriously vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing last year.

The debris was found Wednesday on a beach on Reunion Island, which is east of Madagascar and more than 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) from where the Boeing 777 was last tracked.

Airline recovery expert Steve Saint Amour said he's not surprised at the distance between that route and the spot where the debris was found.

Strong ocean currents in the middle of the Indian Ocean come up the Australian coast south to north, and near Port Hedland in Western Australia, they swerve west across the Indian Ocean and hit Madagascar, he said.

Even if the piece is confirmed to be the first confirmed wreckage from Flight 370, there's no guarantee that investigators can find the plane's vital black box recorders or other debris. A multinational search effort has so far come up empty.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.