TOULOUSE, France - Months after Flight MH370 mysteriously vanished, experts in France yesterday began examining a washed-up wing part that likely belonged to the doomed plane and could provide a breakthrough in one of aviation's greatest enigmas.
The Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared on March 8 last year, inexplicably veering off course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, sparking a colossal but ultimately fruitless multinational hunt for the aircraft.
But last week's discovery of a 2m-long wing part called a flaperon on the French island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean raised fresh hopes for relatives desperate for answers.
The examination of the Boeing 777 piece is being carried out under the direction of a judge at a high-tech laboratoryn in the south-western city of Toulouse.
The case containing the wing part will be opened in the presence of French, Malaysian and Australian experts, Boeing employees and representatives from China - the country that lost the most passengers.
Jean-Paul Troadec, former head of France's BEA agency that investigates air accidents, said the analysis would focus on two issues: whether the flaperon belongs to MH370 and if so, whether it can shed light on the plane's final moments.
He pointed to the paint on the piece as a key element of the probe, saying: "Every airline paints their planes in a certain way... and if the paint used is used by Malaysia Airlines and other companies, there may be more certainty, as other companies may not use Boeing 777s, for instance".
Pierre Bascary, former director of tests at the French Defence Procurement Agency, where the analysis will take place, added that the airline may have written maintenance information on the piece such as "Do Not Walk".
"The phrase used and the way it was written also gives an idea of the origin of the plane," he said.
Crucially, the debris could also yield information on the plane's final moments. Mr Troadec said experts would examine how the part detached itself from the wing.
"Was it in a violent impact with the sea or not?" he asked. "This piece looks like it is in good condition, it doesn't look like the part of a plane that fell vertically in the water at 900km an hour."
Scientists have pointed to the barnacles attached to the flaperon, saying these could give an idea of how long the piece has been in the water, and perhaps where it has been.