KUALA LUMPUR – Australian and Malaysian officials were moving to retrieve and examine suspected aircraft wreckage found on the east African coast to determine whether it came from missing flight MH370, Malaysia’s transport minister said Thursday.
The 1-meter (three-foot) piece of debris found on a Mozambique beach could provide fresh clues into the mystery of the Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared two years ago.
“From the pictures shown, there is high probability the plane debris is from a Boeing 777 plane,” Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
While cautioning that this needed to be verified, his comments appeared to be firmer than the “high possibility” he had mentioned on Wednesday.
MH370, which was carrying 239 passengers and crew when it vanished on March 8, 2014, on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was a Boeing 777.
Transport Minister Darren Chester of Australia, which is leading a vast oceanic search for wreckage, said the debris would be transferred to Australia to be examined by officials and experts, including from Boeing.
Mozambique aviation authorities displayed the recovered fragment for the first time on Thursday in Maputo and said they were communicating with Malaysia and Australia over sending the piece for analysis.
The painstaking search effort has scoured the seabed in the remote Indian Ocean, where the plane is believed to have gone down.
If confirmed to be from MH370, the debris would be only the second shred of physical evidence in one of aviation’s great mysteries.
Last July, a wing fragment was found washed ashore on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion and later confirmed to be from MH370.
That was the first proof that the plane had met a violent end, but otherwise shed little light on what caused the disaster, and the search could cease by midyear.
Liow said officials from Australia’s embassy in Mozambique had been dispatched to retrieve the new object. Malaysian civil aviation experts and representatives of the airline also were en route to Mozambique.
“We would like to get hold of the debris as soon as possible, so that’s why we are working with Australia in the fastest manner,” Liow said.
The latest find comes just days before the disaster’s two-year anniversary.
Liow said a Malaysian-led team of international investigators probing MH370’s disappearance — a separate effort from the Australian-led search — will issue a statement Tuesday on the anniversary.
He did not say whether the statement would contain new revelations.
International agreements require annual updates from investigators in accidents where aircraft cannot be found.
The American amateur investigator who found the washed-up debris on a sandbank in Mozambique told AFP that experts must be “cautious” about identifying the piece.
“We don’t know what it is, which plane it is from,” said Blaine Gibson, a lawyer from Seattle who has traveled the world to try to solve the mystery.
Theories of what caused MH370 to vanish include a hijacking, rogue pilot action, or sudden mechanical problem that incapacitated the crew, but there is no evidence yet to support any particular theory.
Voice370, an international next-of-kin network, issued an emotional appeal Thursday for the search to be continued beyond the expected midyear shutdown.
“We believe that they should not throw in the towel, close this case and simply chalk it up as an unsolvable mystery,” the group said in a statement.
Many next-of-kin accuse the airline and the Malaysian government of letting the plane slip away through a bungled response, and of wanting to end the search so the truth about what happened remains hidden.
The airline and government strongly deny the accusations.