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MH370 Search: 3 Questions Experts Want to Answer About Reunion Plane Debris

Short Take: Debris from MH370 Being DNA Tested 0:59

The discovery of a fragment of a jetliner on the shores of Reunion Island has raised hopes that the mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 might soon be solved. Investigators in Toulouse, France, are analyzing the debris — here's what they're looking for.

Jean Paul Troadec — former head of the Bureau of Investigation and Analysis, France's counterpart to the National Transportation Safety Board — said experts will try to determine three things.

Image: Officials stand near plane debris which was found on Reunion Island
Officials stand near a large piece of plane debris which was found on a beach in Saint-Andre on Reunion Island on Wednesday. Reuters

First, they'll seek to pin down the origin of the flaperon. Experts are in agreement that the debris came from a Boeing 777 — and MH370 is the only such missing jetliner in the world.

"If there is a reference number on the debris, a correlation can be made immediately," Troadec explained. If not, analysts will look to other factors to establish its origins.

Troadec — who led the BEA during the investigation into the crash of Air France Flight 447 — said experts also will be looking at the length of time the fragment has been in the ocean.

Flight MH370 vanished without a trace on March 8, 2014 — and the debris discovered on Reunion was covered in barnacles.

"The seashells or barnacles will play an important role in determining how long this piece of plane has been submerged underwater," Troadec said. "Seashells grow at a certain rhythm and depending on their size can tell investigators if they have been breeding 12 months or 2 years."

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The investigators in France would also be on the lookout for other organisms such as tube worms, coralline red algae or shellfish that could also provide clues, according to The Associated Press.

In addition to establishing the fragment's origins, Troadec said investigators also will be studying the debris to figure out how it detached from its aircraft.

Image: Plane debris is put aboard plane bound for France
Police officers escort a vehicle transporting what is believed to be debris from a Boeing 777 plane that washed up on Reunion at the Indian Ocean island's airport on Friday. RICHARD BOUHET / AFP - Getty Images

The military aviation lab in Toulouse where it will be examined "possesses very sophisticated electronic microscopes that can help experts determine whether the piece broke off because of an explosion, a fire or on impact of something," Troadec explained. That process, he added, could take weeks.

Given the size of the plane fragment in question, according to Troadec it makes clear the rest of the aircraft went down.

"No plane could continue to fly without this piece," Troadec said.

If confirmed to be from MH370, that would put to rest conspiracy theories that the plane had been hijacked or landed on a deserted island.