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Malaysia, Australia move to retrieve suspected aircraft debris
[KUALA LUMPUR] Australian and Malaysian officials were moving to retrieve and examine suspected aircraft wreckage found on the east African coast to quickly determine whether it came from missing flight MH370, Malaysia's transport minister said Thursday.
The one-metre long (three-foot) piece of debris found on a Mozambique beach could provide fresh clues into the mystery of the Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared two years ago.
"From the pictures shown, there is high probability the plane debris is from a Boeing 777 plane," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
While cautioning that this needed to be verified, his comments appeared to be firmer than the "high possibility" he had mentioned on Wednesday.
MH370, which carried 239 passengers and crew when it vanished March 8, 2014 on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was a Boeing 777.
Transport Minister Darren Chester of Australia, which is leading a vast oceanic search for wreckage, said the debris would eventually be transferred to Australia where it would be examined by officials and experts, including from Boeing.
The painstaking two-year search effort has scoured the seabed in the remote Indian Ocean, where the plane is believed to have gone down. But nothing has been found and the search could cease by mid-year.
If confirmed to be from MH370, the debris would mark only the second shred of physical evidence in one of aviation's great mysteries.
Last July, a wing fragment was found washed ashore on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion and later confirmed to be from MH370.
That marked the first proof that the plane had met a violent end, but otherwise shed little light on what caused the disaster.
Liow said officials from Australia's embassy in Mozambique had been dispatched to retrieve the new object from local authorities. Malaysian civil aviation experts and representatives of the airline also were en route to Mozambique.
"We would like to get hold of the debris as soon as possible, so that's why we are working with Australia in the fastest manner," Liow said.
Neither Liow nor Australian officials could say exactly when the debris would be in the specialists' hands.
The latest find comes just days before the disaster's two-year anniversary.
Liow said a Malaysian-led team of international investigators probing MH370's disappearance - a separate effort from the Australian-led search - will issue a statement Tuesday on the anniversary.
He did not say whether the statement would contain new revelations. International agreements require annual updates from investigators in accidents where aircraft cannot be found.
US television network NBC first reported the new debris, saying it was found this week by an American man, Blaine Gibson, who blogs extensively on MH370, and citing experts saying it appeared to be part of an aircraft tail.
Theories of what caused MH370 to vanish include a hijacking, rogue pilot action, or sudden mechanical problem that incapacitated the crew, but there is no evidence yet to support any particular theory.
Voice370, an international next-of-kin network, issued an emotional appeal Thursday for the oceanic search to be continued beyond the expected mid-year shutdown.
"We believe that they should not throw in the towel, close this case and simply chalk it up as an unsolvable mystery," the group said in a statement.
Many next-of-kin accuse the airline and Malaysian government of letting the plane slip away through a bungled response, and of wanting to end the search so the truth about what happened remains hidden.
The airline and government strongly deny the accusations.