SYDNEY - Australia on Thursday said the discovery of aircraft wreckage in the Indian Ocean was "a very important development" in the hunt for MH370, and it was feasible debris could have floated to the French island of La Reunion.
A two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wreckage, possibly from a wing part known as a flaperon, was found on a beach in La Reunion on Wednesday, fuelling hopes that one of aviation history's greatest mysteries could move closer to being solved.
"This obviously is a very important development and if it is indeed wreckage from MH370, it starts to provide some closure for the families of the people on board," said Australia's Transport and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss.
"The Reunion islands are a very long way from the search area but it is consistent with the work that has been done in identifying the current search area, the satellite interpretations of the route path that the aircraft is expected to have taken.
"So a discovery of wreckage in that area would not be inconsistent with that advice." Truss has been overseeing the search of more than 50,000 square kilometres (19,000 square miles) of the Southern Indian Ocean for the Malaysia Airlines plane, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 8 last year.
No physical evidence has ever been found, with all 239 people on board, mostly Chinese, presumed dead. Authorities are planning to search a total of 120,000 square kilometres.
Truss said it was possible that debris could travel the roughly 4,000 kilometres from the area considered the most likely impact zone in the southern Indian Ocean far off Australia's west coast.
"The photos certainly have barnacles on them, so that would suggest that this wreckage has been in the water for a long time. So in 16 months a piece of wing could have travelled a very long way," he said.
The minister added that he now expected a thorough hunt around the La Reunion area for further wreckage, which he said would primarily be the responsibility of Malaysia and France.
"We still believe the aircraft is resting in the water in the Australian search area and this (latest development) will be valuable information, but it is not likely to lead to any change to our search strategy at this time," added Truss.
"The work we have done in interpreting the satellite data has delivered to us the most likely place where the aircraft entered the water in the Indian Ocean and the area we are looking is certainly the most prospective site."