After a fruitless 16-month search for the Malaysia Airlines plane, the discovery of a piece of a plane wing offered up the bittersweet hope of closure to the families of 239 people who seemingly disappeared into thin air on the doomed flight.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the two-metre (six-foot) long piece of wreckage found on the French island of La Reunion was "very likely" from a Boeing 777, but it remained to be seen if it indeed came from MH370.
Malaysian investigators arrived on the island to study the object and a French military helicopter slowly circled the area above the island where the debris washed up on a rocky beach.
What seemed to be a part of a suitcase was also found at the site.
"The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue (pictured above), a member of a local clean-up association who found the long piece of wreckage believed to be a part of a plane wing.
The fragment of material includes the closed zip.
"It is really weird, it gives me the shivers," said Begue.
The plane vanished at night over the South China Sea after mysteriously diverting from its north-bound route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
(Officials transport the debris from the beach. Photo: AFP)
No physical evidence
Authorities involved in an Australian-led search believe it diverted for some unknown reason to the southern Indian Ocean, where it went down.
But no physical evidence has ever been found and Malaysian authorities in January declared that all on board were presumed dead.
One witness in La Reunion said the object was "covered in shells", indicating it had been in the water for a long period of time.
Xavier Tytelman, an expert in aviation security, said local media photos of the object showed "incredible similarities" with a Boeing 777 part called a flaperon.
However, excitement over the discovery was tempered by the fact that planes have gone down in the region before, including a South African Airways Boeing 747 that crashed near the island of Mauritius in 1987, killing all 159 people on board.
An Australian-led operation has scoured more than 50,000 square kilometres (19,000 square miles) of the seafloor, about 60 percent of a search zone in the Indian Ocean determined via expert analysis of signals from MH370 that were detected by a satellite.
But search vessels towing 10-kilometre (6-mile) cables fitted with sophisticated sonar systems have turned up no sign of MH370.
La Reunion lies about 4,000 kilometres from the area considered the most likely impact zone, but oceanographers and other experts involved in online discussion over the find said oceanic currents could have carried it there.
(A closer look at the debris. Photo: BFM TV screengrab)
Angry next of kin have accused Malaysia's government of incompetence, secrecy, and insensitivity toward relatives, and many question the focus on
the southern Indian Ocean.
Relatives said they were trying to keep their emotions in check until verification is complete.
"We have mixed feelings. If this is true, at least I know I can have peace and give my husband a proper send-off. But part of us still hopes they are out there alive somewhere," said Jacquita Gonzales.
Her husband Patrick Gomes was the flight's cabin crew supervisor.
Sara Weeks, sister of MH370 passenger Paul Weeks of New Zealand, said she was happy the debris was in French hands.
"They've (Malaysia) just been incompetent, so at least it's in the hands of someone else and we may get some answers a little bit quicker," she told Fairfax New Zealand.
Speculation on the cause of the plane's disappearance has focused primarily on a possible mechanical or structural failure, a hijacking or terror plot, or rogue pilot action.
However, nothing has emerged to substantiate any scenario, sustaining a flow of conspiracy theories, with books, documentaries and a thriving online debate positing a range of possibilities.
These include suggestions that the plane was diverted to Kazakhstan, or commandeered to be used as a "flying bomb" headed for US military
installations on the Diego Garcia atoll, and was shot down by the Americans.
The United States has dismissed this.