The authorities in Australia, who are leading the search for missing aircraft MH370, are "increasingly confident" the piece of debris washed ashore on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean belongs to the doomed airliner.
Beach cleaners on the island, situated approx 2,500 miles away from the current search area, found a two-metre wing part, known as a flaperon, which adjusts the roll of a plane. It is now being sent to Toulouse – the hub of Europe's aerospace industry – for verification.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said the finding gave the £70 million search mission hope that they were in the correct area based on ocean drift analysis that predicted currents would carry any floating wreckage to the African coast.
"The shape of the object looks very much like a very specific part associated only with 777 aircraft," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
"We are still working with our French and Malaysian colleagues to analyse all the information, so we don't have certainty yet, but we hope that within the next little while we'll be able to get to that level of confidence. We're hoping within the next 24 hours."
Beach cleaner Johnny Begue found the piece on Wednesday while collecting stones to grind spices.
"I knew immediately it was part of an aircraft, but I didn't realise how important it was − that it could help to solve the mystery of what happened to the Malaysian Jet," he told Associate Press.
The Boeing 777 disappeared without trace on 8 March 2014, along with 239 passengers and crew. No distress signal was sent out. It veered off its original flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing for reasons still unknown today.
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said the wing piece could help solve one of the biggest aviation mysteries in history that has left grieving families in limbo.
"Nothing has been confirmed, but obviously this is, by far, the most encouraging sign so far," he told Sydney radio station 2SM. "We have long thought it went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean and, at last, it seems that we may be on the verge of some confirmation."
But relatives are less convinced after hearing the news of the discovery.
Intan Maizura Othman, wife of steward Mohamed Hazrin Hasnan told the New Straits Times: "Honestly, to tell you the truth, I do not feel anything. Whether MH370 or not, to me the plane did not crash, so you can say whatever you want to say, I still believe it didn't crash."
"Let's wait a few more days, I'm a bit lost right now," Xu Jinghong, a daughter of one passenger, told the Changjiang News.
The last ACARS (Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System) transmission was sent at 1.07am via the plane's computers to computers on the ground but the expected 1.37am transmission was never sent.The Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said at the time that the plane's transponder had been "deliberately disabled".
Experts said satellite data then showed the plane continued flying for seven hours before crashing into the Indian Ocean. Search vessels have been scouring the ocean floor but no remnants of the plane, such as its recorders, have ever been found until potentially this week.