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Officials: Jet debris is from Boeing 777, solution to Flight 370 mystery may be 'close'

Officials: Jet debris is from Boeing 777, solution to Flight 370 mystery may be 'close'
A white van carrying the airplane wing part that washed up on Reunion Island is escorted by the French gendarmerie to a cargo hangar at the island's Roland Garros Airport in Sainte-Marie on July 31. (Ben Curtis / Associated Press)

A Malaysian transport official confirmed to French media Friday that jet wreckage found on an Indian Ocean island beach -- considered a possible clue in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 -- is from a Boeing 777.

Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, Malaysia's deputy transport minister, told Agence France-Presse that the part number on the piece of debris that washed ashore on the French island of Reunion identified it as having belonged to a Boeing 777.

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Kaprawi said he believed that a solution to the mystery of last year's disappearance of Flight 370 was "close."

"I believe that we are approaching the resolution of the mystery of MH370. This could be conclusive proof that Flight MH370 crashed into the Indian Ocean," Kaprawi told AFP.

Air-accident investigators are now trying to definitively establish if the debris came from the aircraft that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.

The right-wing flaperon discovered on the beach on Reunion is being transferred to a special Ministry of Defense laboratory in France. A flaperon is a piece of wing equipment that helps a pilot bank and slow down during a descent.

Experts believe examination of the part will reveal not only whether it came from the doomed aircraft but whether it detached from the plane while it was still in the air -- suggesting an explosion or uncontrolled plummet -- or was ripped off when the plane plunged into the sea.

A spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office, Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, said the aircraft piece is expected to arrive in Paris on Saturday and then be sent to the laboratory near the southern city of Toulouse.

Authentication of the plane part has been put under the authority of the Paris judge who is heading the French inquiry into the crash.

Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, 2014. It disappeared from radar screens one hour after takeoff.

Martin Dolan, director of the Australian air safety bureau, which is running the search operation for Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean, told reporters that he was "more and more convinced the debris is that of MH370."

"The shape of the fragment very closely resembles a specific part of the 777," Dolan told AFP.

However, Warren Truss, Australia's minister for infrastructure and regional development, said that even if the flaperon was traced back to Flight 370, the effect of ocean currents would make it virtually impossible to track down the rest of the plane.

On Friday, media outlets on Reunion reported that two plastic bottles with labels in Chinese and Indonesian had been discovered on the same beach at Saint-André where the aircraft wing was discovered by a clean-up team Wednesday.

However, investigators said the bottles could have come from the numerous cargo ships from Asia that regularly pass the coast of the island.

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Willsher is a special correspondent.

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