Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed Thursday that airplane debris found last week on a French island in the western Indian Ocean came from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished nearly 17 months ago.
“Today, 515 days since the plane disappeared, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that an international team of experts have conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion Island is indeed from MH370,” Najib said at a news conference convened at 2 a.m. (local time), at which he took no questions.
“We now have physical evidence that, as I announced on 24th March last year, flight MH370 tragically ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
The prime minister was referring to lab tests done during the day in Toulouse, France, which confirmed that a flaperon – a moving part on the rear edge of the wing – came from the same Boeing 777 that disappeared with 239 people onboard while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
Since then, 26 nations have taken part in aerial and maritime searches stretching from the South China Sea to the southern Indian Ocean, off Australia, where it is believed to have crashed. Reunion island is located thousands of miles away, off Madagascar.
“I would like to assure all those affected by this tragedy that the government of Malaysia is committed to do everything within our means to find out the truth of what happened,” Najib added.
“MH370’s disappearance marked us as a nation. We mourn with you, as a nation.”
He said nothing at all about whether the French lab tests had revealed any clues into what might have caused the plane to crash.
In Paris, a French official was more cautious in linking the wing piece and MH370. He addressed the media after Najib appeared at the early-morning news conference that was broadcast to the nation.
"There exists a very high probability that the flaperon indeed belongs to flight MH370," Deputy Paris Prosecutor Serge Mackowiak said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Investigators had been able to verify that the wing part came from a Boeing 777 because of its "technical characteristics," the Frenchman said.
In addition, "technical documentation" provided by Malaysia Airlines representatives allowed investigators to "establish a link between the item examined by the experts and the flaperon from the MH370 Boeing 777 in terms of their common technical characteristics," Mackowiak said.
‘Not the end’
The Malaysian government’s confirmation that the debris came from MH370 is the first tangible piece of evidence to come out of the 17-month search for the plane, the longest ever conducted for a missing airliner.
Last week’s discovery of the flaperon on a Reunion beach happened to come on the same day that Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an international tribunal to prosecute the people who shot down another Malaysia Airlines flight, MH17, in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
“This is indeed a major breakthrough for us in resolving the disappearance of MH370. We expect and hope that there would be more objects to be found which would be able to help resolve this mystery,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement.
The MH370 confirmation marks a “huge step” in the investigation, Jakarta-based aviation consultant Gerry Soejatman told AFP.
"People want all the answers, but look, let's be real. We must be glad that we found something at all. Now we know roughly where it might have crashed," he said.
“It’s not the end,” Jacquita Gonzales, whose husband was a flight attendant on MH370, told Reuters. “Although they found something, you know, it’s not the end.”
“They still need to find the whole plane and our spouses as well,” she added. “We still want them back.”