Malaysian investigators are expected in Reunion on Friday and the object, identified by aviation experts as part of a wing, would then be sent to a French military laboratory near Toulouse for checks, French police sources said.

National carrier Malaysia Airlines was operating a Boeing 777 on the ill-fated flight, which disappeared in March last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history. It was carrying 239 passengers and crew. The plane piece was found on Wednesday washed up on Reunion, a volcanic island of 850,000 people that is a full part of France, located in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

Reunion is roughly 3,700 km (2,300 miles) from the broad expanse of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia where search efforts have been focussed, but Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said currents could have carried wreckage that way.

MH370 is believed to be the only 777 to have crashed south of the equator since the jet came into service 20 years ago. "The location is consistent with the drift analysis provided to the Malaysian investigation team, which showed a route from the southern Indian Ocean to Africa," Najib added.

Aviation experts who have seen widely circulated pictures of the debris, which is about 2-2.5 metres (6.5-8 feet) long, said it may be a moving wing surface known as a flaperon, situated close to the fuselage. France 2 television showed a picture of the part with the figures '657 BB' stamped on its interior. That corresponds to a code in the 777 manual identifying it as a flaperon and telling workers to place it on the right wing, according to a copy of a Boeing document that appeared on aviation websites.

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