Experts are preparing to examine a large piece of debris washed ashore on Reunion Island, amid speculation it could be from missing airliner MH370.
The two-metre-long chunk has an identifying number and was found covered in shells on Wednesday morning.
Experts from Malaysia, including representatives from the Department of Civil Aviation and Malaysia Airlines, are travelling to the island to examine the find, although journey time between Kuala Lumpur and Reunion Island is around 25 hours.
There were also reports from local media that a badly-damaged suitcase had been found near where the wreckage was discovered. Police on the island are investigating the suitcase, which was found by a local worker.
Police on the island have taken the debris to the island’s Roland Garros Airport for analysis, although authorities there have warned people not to get “ahead of themselves” until they are able to pinpoint the origin of the wreckage.
Air safety investigators, however, have a “high degree of confidence” that the debris is from a Boeing 777 – the same type of aircraft as the missing plane, according to a US official.
The un-named source told the AP news agency they had identified it as a flaperon from a 777 wing but Malaysian Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi would only say it appeared “similar” and two days would be needed to confirm.
There have only been four hull-loss crashes of Boeing 777s resulting in injuries or fatalities, the other three being over land.
“It is more than likely plane debris, (but) we don’t know what exact part it may be,” said Eric Chesneau, an air transport police officer on the island, which is around 580 miles from Madagascar.
The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight has baffled experts since March 2014, when the plane dropped off radar during a journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.
Australia is currently co-ordinating the search for the jet, focusing on a huge expanse of ocean about 1,000 miles off its west coast but so far drawing a blank.
Australia’s deputy prime minister Warren Truss said he had been told it was a “realistic possibility” the wreckage of MH370 could have travelled as far as Reunion if the plane had entered the part of the Indian Ocean being searched.
The find in Reunion Island comes under the jurisdiction of French authorities – along with the Malaysians – as the island is a French department.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport said that “until there is tangible and irrefutable evidence that the flaperon does belong to the missing aircraft, it would be premature to speculate at this juncture.
“This is to ensure that we do not raise false hopes for the loved ones of the victims of MH370.”
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said: “With regards to the reports of the discovery at Reunion Island, we’re working with the relevant authorities to confirm the matter. At the moment it would be too premature for the airline to speculate the origin of the object.”
Radar engineer Dan Holland told Sky News the number found on the debris was “like a VIN number on a car, or a mobile phone’s IMEI number”, although Mr Truss said later that he had been told the number was not a serial number but perhaps a maintenance number.
He said investigators should be able to check relatively quickly if it came from the doomed Boeing 777 because the number is unique but he added that he was “extremely sceptical” it is from MH370.
“Any low-flying plane in the area would have been detected by powerful military radar on Diego Garcia,” said Mr Holland.
However, he agreed it was possible the debris could have drifted a great distance from the crash site.
Estimates on how far the plane could have flown vary, but some experts believe it could have travelled as far as Madagascar, some 500 miles past Reunion.