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Plane Debris Studied for Link to Missing Malaysia Airliner


FILE - A Malaysia Airlines flight crew heads for the departure lounge at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Malaysian civil aviation authorities officially declared the airline's Flight MH370 crash an accident on Jan. 29, 2015.

Investigators are looking into whether a piece of airplane debris found on a French Indian Ocean island is part of Flight MH370, the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared without a trace in March 2014.

The two-meter-long piece was discovered Wednesday on a beach on Reunion Island, located between Madagascar and Mauritius. One person who saw the piece said it was covered with shells, indicating that it had been in the water a long time.

A spokesman for France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety said the part hadn't been identified and that it was too early to say whether it was from MH370. Aviation experts, however, said that based on photographs of the debris it appeared to be a wing flap.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said his government had sent a team to Reunion Island to help with the identification.

The Associated Press reported late Wednesday that a U.S. official had said investigators have a "high degree of confidence" that debris found is from a Boeing 777, the same type of plane that MH370 was.

An French aviation expert, Xavier Tytelman, agreed. In a French aviation blog, he wrote that a code written on the debris should allow investigators to tell exactly where it came from within a few days.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it was having photos of the debris studied by Boeing in an attempt to identify it. Boeing said it would not comment on the photos.

However, other aviation experts cautioned that it was too soon to say whether the debris belongs to MH370. A local official on Reunion cautioned about rushing to conclusions.

"People are getting ahead of themselves over this," Eric Chesneau, an officer in the air transport police, told Reuters in response to speculation on social media. "It is more than likely plane debris, [but] we don't know what exact part it may be."

MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, on its way to Beijing. It vanished from radar more than a hour later, somewhere over the South China Sea.

A frustrating search of more than 50,000 square kilometers of ocean turned up nothing. The last search zone for the plane was in the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia.

Malaysian officials have said all 239 people on board the Boeing 777 are presumed dead.