Investigators are working to identify whether a wing part that washed up on a remote Indian Ocean island came from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Loved ones of those on board will likely have to wait at least another day for confirmation after 16 months without answers.
Though several officials have expressed confidence that the debris found on the French island of Reunion is from a Boeing 777, French authorities are planning to send the piece for analysis before confirming it came from the missing Malaysian aircraft.
The part could arrive on Saturday morning, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Officials, keenly aware that families of those on board Flight 370 are desperately awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones, hope to have at least some answers within the next day or two.
“The most important part of this whole exercise at the moment is to give some kind of closure to the families,” said Australian transport minister Warren Truss, whose country is leading the search for the plane in a desolate stretch of ocean off Australia’s west coast.
Jaquita Gomes, whose husband Patrick was a flight attendant on the missing plane, is anxious for the results of the analysis but wants authorities to ensure they are conclusive before announcing them.
“It’s going to be a nail-biting weekend but we cannot rush it,” said Ms Gomes, of Kuala Lumpur. “We have been waiting for more than 500 days. The agony continues and I hope there will be answers soon.”
But even if the piece is confirmed to be the first confirmed wreckage from Flight 370, there is no guarantee investigators can still find the plane’s vital black box recorders or other debris.
A multinational search effort now focused on the southern Indian Ocean has come up empty.
The part has been moved to the local airport on Reunion, located off Africa’s east coast, and will next head to Toulouse, the hub of Europe’s aerospace industry.
It will be analysed in special defence facilities used for airplane testing and analysis, according to the defence ministry.
Air safety investigators, including one from Boeing, have identified the component as a “flaperon” from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a US official said.
Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, is the only missing 777.
“Nothing has been confirmed, but obviously this is, by far, the most encouraging sign so far,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Sydney radio station 2SM.
“We have long thought it went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean and, at last, it seems that we may be on the verge of some confirmation.”
A French law enforcement helicopter is scouring the waters around Reunion in hopes of spotting more debris, and Malaysian authorities were headed to the island and to Toulouse.