BY AL-ZAQUAN AMER HAMZAH
A piece of a wing that washed up on an Indian Ocean island last week was part of the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, Malaysia said on Thursday, confirming the discovery of the first trace of the plane since it vanished last year.
"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," Prime Minister Najib Razak said in televised address.
The plane disappeared on flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.
The first piece of direct evidence that it crashed in the ocean closes a chapter in one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history.
But exactly what happened remains unknown and the announcement did not appear to represent any kind of resolution for the families of those on board, most of whom were Chinese.
The airline described the find as "a major breakthrough".
"We expect and hope that there would be more objects to be found which would be able to help resolve this mystery," it said in a statement.
The fragment of wing known as a flaperon was flown to mainland France after being found last week covered in barnacles on a beach on the French island of Reunion.
Despite the Malaysian confirmation, prosecutors in France stopped short of declaring they were certain, saying only that there was a "very strong presumption".
Paris Prosecutor Serge Mackowiak said this was based on technical data supplied by both the manufacturer and airline but gave no indication that experts had discovered a serial number or unique markings that would put the link beyond doubt.
Representatives of manufacturer Boeing confirmed that the flaperon came from a 777 jet, he said, and Malaysia Airlines provided documentation of the missing aircraft.