KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia >> Jacquita Gomes is torn about whether to believe that plane debris found more than 16 months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is the first concrete evidence that her husband is truly gone.
Not believing could allow her to keep alive the hopes of many relatives that the airliner and her husband, a flight attendant, landed somewhere unscathed in a hijacking plot — though the discovery this week of a Boeing 777 wing component on an Indian Ocean island seemed to make that possibility more remote than ever.
“One part of me, I want it to be true,” Gomes said of the debris found on the French island of Reunion, “so I can put my husband Patrick to rest. It’s been one year, I want him to be at peace.”
But, she added: “The other part of me, I don’t want it to be true, so there is hope for good news. You know, there has been news that people are released after being kidnapped for one year, so there can always be hope for good news if this is not real.”
Relatives of the 239 people aboard the flight — nearly two-thirds of them from China — have been in an agonizing limbo since the plane disappeared on March 8, 2014, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. For months, nothing was found. Malaysian authorities eventually concluded the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, citing satellite data, but many relatives refused to accept any such conclusion without concrete evidence.
Now, U.S. aviation investigators say there’s a “high degree of certainty” that a wing part known as a “flaperon” found on Reunion in the western Indian Ocean close to Madagascar belongs to a Boeing 777. The MH370 is the only such aircraft known to be missing.
However, many relatives remain skeptical and say they are waiting for more definitive word.
“I’ve not slept the whole night — really nervous anticipating the news,” Elaine Chew said in Kuala Lumpur. Her husband, David Tan Size Hiang, also was a flight attendant on the plane.
A group of many of the Chinese relatives said in a statement that they wanted authorities to be 100 percent certain the part was from MH370, and that, even if so, it should not dampen the resolve to find the rest of the wreckage, the whereabouts of all the passengers and the reasons for the disappearance.
The Reunion debris may finally rule out that missing passengers might still be alive, said Wang Zheng, an engineer in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Deming, were aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia.
“All hope is truly gone now,” Wang said. “I’m feeling very confused and emotional at the moment.”
However, Wang also said that closure still remains a distant prospect for him.
“For now, we’ll just follow the investigation and see what it shows,” Wang said.
The disappearance has been difficult for relatives in China, where the culture places an especially heavy emphasis on finding and seeing the remains before true grieving and the process of moving on can begin.
Zhang Qian, whose husband Wang Houbin was among the 153 Chinese citizens aboard the flight, said she had seen reports of the discovery but remained unconvinced.
“We still can’t be sure. How could it have traveled so far?” Zhang, 29, said. She quit her job after the accident and turned to Buddhism to find solace.
“They’ve given us so much contradictory information so far, how can we believe them now?” she said in a telephone interview in Beijing before breaking into sobs.
Sara Weeks in Christchurch, New Zealand, whose brother Paul Weeks was on Flight 370, said it was hard to believe that after so long, a large piece of the plane could actually show up.
“If it is from MH370, then I still have all the same questions: Where is it? Where is the rest of it? What happened to it?” Weeks said. “I believe we’ll find out what happened to it one day, regardless. Somebody knows what happened.”
“It’s a great big gaping hole in everybody’s life,” Weeks said. “We need to find out what happened to get closure, and move on.”
Mader reported from Beijing. Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.