WASHINGTON >> Air safety investigators have a “high degree of confidence” that a photo of aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean is of a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year, according to a U.S. official said Wednesday.
Air safety investigators — one of them a Boeing investigator — have identified the component as a “flaperon” from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, the U.S. official said.
A French official close to an investigation of the debris confirmed Wednesday that French law enforcement is on site to examine a piece of airplane wing found on the French island of Reunion, in the western Indian Ocean. A French television network was airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris.
The U.S. and French officials spoke on condition that they not be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly.
At the United Nations, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage.
“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370,” he said.
If the debris turns out to be from Malaysia Airlines flight 370, it will be the first major break in the effort to discover what happened to the plane after it vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while traveling from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing. A massive multinational search effort of the South Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand came up dry.
The latest development comes on the same day that another tragic Malaysia Air flight was being discussed at the United Nations. On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set up an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine a year ago.
The foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine attended a meeting over the downing that killed all 298 people on board Flight MH17. The countries are among the five nations investigating the incident, along with Malaysia and Belgium.
Ukraine and the West suspect the plane, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels on July 17, 2014. Russia denies that, and state media have alleged the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or warplane.
“Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, adding that the United States was among the 18 countries that lost citizens in the disaster.
Three countries abstained from the vote: China, Angola and Venezuela, whose ambassador said victims’ suffering shouldn’t be used politically.