Investigators are studying an airplane fragment discovered Wednesday on an island in the Indian Ocean, but they say it is too early to tell whether it might hold a clue to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 last year.
Boeing investigators have looked at photos of the fragment and say that they believe it is from a 777 aircraft, sources told NBC News Wednesday afternoon.
They believe it is a piece of a wing or flap from a Boeing triple 7 and there is only one 777 missing in the world right now — MH370.
The BEA, the French counterpart to the National Transportation Safety Board, said it was also studying the fragment, which was found by a crew cleaning the coastline of rugged Reunion Island, a French territory east of Madagascar off the southern tip of Africa.
The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that the fragment was about 6 feet long and could be a piece of a wing. The fragment appeared to have been in the water “for a long period,” the French Interior Ministry told NBC News.
Sebastien Barthe, a spokesman for the BEA, said it was too soon to tell whether the fragment was part of Flight 370 or even part of that model of aircraft, the Boeing 777. He said French investigators are working with their counterparts in Malaysia and in Australia, which has led the ocean search.
The Malaysian jet, carrying 239 people, disappeared about an hour into its journey from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
A joint investigation by Australia and Malaysia used satellite data to conclude that the plane probably changed course and headed south for hours before running out of fuel somewhere over the Indian Ocean.
Using boats, planes and sophisticated sonar equipment, crews from around the world have scoured tens of thousands of square miles of the open ocean, but no confirmed piece of the aircraft has been found.
Late Wednesday, the Australian government put out a statement on the new find, saying, “it would be consistent with other analysis and modelling that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern Indian Ocean.”
Earlier, at the United Nations, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage.
“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370,” he said.
Malaysia Airlines later put out a statement saying they were “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 flaperon [wing section].”