Australian officials investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said Thursday that the discovery of debris on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion was "a major lead", but warned it was "too early" to say whether it belonged to the missing Boeing 777.
"It's the first real evidence that there is a possibility that a part of the aircraft may have been found," Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss told reporters Thursday. "It's too early to make that judgment, but clearly we are treating this as a major lead."
Malaysia's prime minister said the debris will be sent for investigation to the French city of Toulouse, the center for European aviation.
"We have had many false alarms before, but for the sake of the families who have lost loved ones, and suffered such heartbreaking uncertainty, I pray that we will find out the truth so that they may have closure and peace," Najib Razak said on his personal blog. He promised to make any new information public quickly.
An unconfirmed photo has also emerged of a man holding what appeared to be remains of a luggage bag that was believed to have been found near the plane debris, but so far there is no link to MH370.
"The piece of suitcase was here yesterday but no one really paid any attention to it," Johnny Begue, a cleaning member, told Le Parisien. "You can see how a zip from the suitcase is still attached to a piece of rigid fabric — it's just surreal, it makes me shudder."
Air safety investigators -- one of them a Boeing investigator -- have identified the component found as a "flaperon" from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a U.S. official told the Associated Press. Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only 777 known to be missing.
The barnacle-encrusted wing piece is about 6 feet long. Investigators have found a number on the part, but it is not a serial or registration number, Truss said. It could be a maintenance number, which may help investigators figure out what plane it belongs to, he said.
A French official close to an investigation of the debris confirmed Wednesday that French law enforcement is on Reunion to examine it. A French television network was airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris. U.S. investigators are also examining a photo of the debris.