SYDNEY - Australian authorities said Thursday they were confident the search for MH370 was being carried out in the right area and the plane would be found after Malaysia confirmed debris on an Indian Ocean island was from the missing flight.
The debris, part of a wing known as a flaperon, found on Reunion "does seem to indicate that the plane did come down, more or less where we thought it did, and it suggests that for the first time we might be a little bit closer to solving this baffling mystery," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters Thursday.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), the agency leading the search in the remote Indian Ocean far off the west coast of the island continent, added that "we're confident that we're looking in the right area and we'll find the aircraft there".
But Dolan told ABC radio it was "too early to tell" what happened to the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet which disappeared 17 months ago, and that "close examination (of the flaperon) is what's necessary to access how much we can learn".
Australia has been leading the hunt for the plane which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March last year.
No evidence had been found until the wing part washed up on the French territory of Reunion, which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said early Thursday was from the jet.
French officials used more cautious language, saying only that there was a "very high probability" the wreckage came from MH370.
- 'Controlled-type crash' -
Satellite and other data point to the plane coming down in the southern Indian Ocean, and ships have been scouring more than 50,000 square kilometres (19,000 square miles) of deep ocean floor for evidence.
Authorities plan to search a total of 120,000 square kilometres.
Australia on Wednesday said its drift modelling showed debris could have been carried by wind and currents to Reunion, some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) from the region where MH370 was thought to have gone down.
"The finding of wreckage on La Reunion is consistent with our current search area," said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss Thursday.
"For this reason thorough and methodical search efforts will continue in the defined search area." "We have two vessels operating still out in the Indian Ocean with towed sonar and they will cover the sea... thoroughly in the specified search area," Dolan said. "We hope as the weather improves to put more assets onto the search." Truss added that the Australian government was waiting for further details from investigators, adding that an ATSB expert was in France and working with the team.
It remains unclear whether analysis of the wing part will yield any clues into the cause of the plane's disappearance, but Australian aviation expert Neil Hansford said the flaperon snapping off gave pointers on how the jet entered the water.
"What it does show is that the aircraft has gone into the water in a controlled-type crash and as the engines have hit the water, they've sheared off and this part is straight behind one of the engines," he told AFP.
"There should be at least one other flaperon from the other wing (floating around)." But he added that at this time "all you can say that it proves is that MH370 definitely crashed into the southern Indian Ocean and it also proves that the search area as identified by the Australian experts... is appropriate."