REUTERS - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed on early on Thursday that a Boeing 777 wing segment discovered in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion is from the missing Flight MH370, the first real breakthrough in the search for the plane that disappeared 17 months ago.
"The international team of experts has conclusively confirmed that the aircraft debris found on Reunion Island is indeed from MH370," Najib said in a televised statement.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared in March last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.
International crash experts have been examining the wing part found on France's Indian Ocean island of Reunion last week, hoping to determine whether it comes from the jetliner.
A statement from a French prosecutor involved in the case said there would be a news conference "on the subject of the disappearance of the Boeing MH370" at 1800 GMT in Paris. Malaysian officials were also standing by for an announcement.
The examination of the part is being carried out under the direction of a judge at an aeronautical test facility run by the French military at Balma, a suburb of the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Officials from the United States and manufacturer Boeing were also on hand to advise whether the piece can be tied to Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8 last year while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
The airliner is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, about 3,700 km (2,300 miles) from Reunion.
But the question of why the aircraft vanished may be clearer only if the main debris field is found, and its flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been recovered.
"A wing's moving surfaces give you far fewer clues than bigger structures like the rudder, for example. As a single piece of evidence, it is likely to reveal quite little other than it comes from MH370," a former investigator said.
The Balma test center specializes in metal analysis and is equipped with a scanning electron microscope capable of 100,000 times magnification. It was used to store and analyze debris from an Air France jet which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009.
The Boeing 777 was minutes into its scheduled flight when it disappeared from civil radars. Investigators believe that someone deliberately switched off the aircraft's transponder, diverted it thousands of miles off course, and deliberately crashed into the ocean off Australia.
In January, Malaysia Airlines officially declared the disappearance an accident, clearing the way for the carrier to pay compensation to relatives while the search goes on.
A $90 million hunt along a rugged 60,000 sq km patch of sea floor 1,600 km (1,000 miles) west of the Australian city of Perth has yielded nothing.
The search has being extended to another 60,000 sq km (23,000 sq miles) and Malaysian and Australian authorities say this will cover 95 percent of MH370's flight path.