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Debris "very likely" part of missing Flight 370

The flaperon found on Reunion Island, believed to be from the lost Boeing 777 of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, is being flown to France. Once there, testing will begin to determine if the wing part came from MH370
Wing part flown to France 02:08

SAINT-ANDRE, Reunion -- A wing part that washed up on the French island of La Reunion is "very likely" part of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, according to the Australian official leading the investigation, Martin Dolan.

Dolan, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner, made the remark to the BBC.

Boeing has confirmed that the piece of wreckage is a wing part called a "flaperon," and that the serial number found on it belongs to a Boeing 777 aircraft, CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports. The Malaysian government also said on Friday that the serial number found on the debris showed that the part was from a Boeing 777.

French authorities are planning to send the piece to southern France for analysis before confirming it came from the missing Malaysian flight 370. The part could arrive Saturday morning, according to the Paris prosecutor's office.

Meanwhile, searchers continued to scour the coastline of the remote island in hopes of finding more debris that could unlock the mystery of MH370, which vanished more than a year ago with 239 people on board.

Philippe Sidam, head of an association that maintains the Bois Rouge beach near where the aircraft wing was found Wednesday, says the ocean currents bring all kinds of debris. He displayed a laundry bottle from Indonesia, 4,100 miles away, as an example.

But after 16 agonizing months without answers, loved ones of those on board MH370 will likely have to wait at least another day, as investigators continue work to confirm the source of the barnacle-encrusted part.

All the signs are pointing to a positive identification. Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, CBS News' aviation and safety expert, noted on "CBS This Morning" on Thursday that there is one missing Boeing 777 plane in the world right now: MH370.

Oceanographer on investigation of debris likely linked to MH370 02:40

Officials, keenly aware that families of those on board Flight 370 are desperately awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones, hope to have at least some answers within the next day or two.

"The most important part of this whole exercise at the moment is to give some kind of closure to the families," said Australian Deputy Prime minister Warren Truss, whose country is leading the search for the plane in a desolate stretch of ocean off Australia's west coast.

Still, given the myriad false leads that have peppered the search, some would prefer certainty to speed.

Jacquita Gomes, whose husband, Patrick Gomes, was a flight attendant on the missing plane, is anxious for the results of the analysis, but wants authorities to ensure they're conclusive before announcing them.

"It's going to be a nail-biting weekend but we cannot rush it," said Gomes, of Kuala Lumpur. "We have been waiting for more than 500 days. The agony continues and I hope there will be answers soon."

But even if the piece is confirmed as wreckage from Flight 370, there's no guarantee investigators can still find the plane's vital black box recorders or other debris. Doane reports that a multinational search effort now focused on the southern Indian Ocean has come up empty.

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Swirling ocean currents make retracing the path of the debris almost impossible, Truss said Friday, adding that, if confirmed, the wreckage would eliminate "fanciful theories" about what happened to the missing flight.

"It establishes really beyond any doubt that the aircraft is resting in the Indian Ocean and not secretly parked in some hidden place on the land in another part of the world," he said.

Reunion environmental worker Johnny Begue told The Associated Press that he stumbled across the plane part on Wednesday morning while collecting stones to grind spices. A colleague, Teddy Riviere, corroborated his account, but authorities wouldn't say who discovered the component.

"I knew immediately it was part of an aircraft, but I didn't realize how important it was, that it could help to solve the mystery of what happened to the Malaysian jet," Begue, 46, told The Associated Press.

He and several workmates carried the wing fragment out of the water so that it would not be battered by the surf against the volcanic rocks that make up most of the beach.

Begue also discovered a piece of a suitcase about 2.5 meters (8 feet) away, he said.

Australian officials expressed skepticism that the suitcase was associated with the wing part. Truss, the transport minister, noted that there did not appear to be any marine life attached to the suitcase, indicating it probably hadn't been in the water for long. But he dubbed the wing part a major lead.

Girlfriend of MH370 passenger reacts to plane debris finding 02:59

Truss expects French investigators will also try to determine how the part separated from the rest of the aircraft, and whether it shows evidence of fire or other damage, which might explain how the plane crashed.

The fact that the part was found 2,600 miles from the current search site does not mean officials are looking in the wrong place, said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who is leading the hunt. To the contrary, it gives them reassurance that they're in the correct spot, given that ocean modeling predicted that currents would eventually carry any floating wreckage to the African coast. The discovery is therefore unlikely to alter the seabed search, he said.

"There's been a lot of public doubt about whether we're searching in the right place," Dolan said. "We remain highly confident in our work defining the search area."

Over the past 16 months, hopes have repeatedly been raised and then dashed that the plane, or parts of the plane, had been found. In the end, none of them were from Flight 370.

Jiang Hui, whose mother was on the Beijing-bound flight, told CBS News' Doane he has a hard time believing any news these days.

"MH370 relatives have suffered more than any other victims in any other air crash in such a long time," Hui said.

Zhang Qian in Beijing, whose husband, Wang Houbin, was on the plane, hopes this is not another false lead.

"I don't want to see any news about suspected debris," she said. "What I want is a verified result."

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