Sydney - Australian authorities said on Thursday they were confident the search for MH370 was being carried out in the right area and the plane would be found, after Malaysia confirmed debris on an Indian Ocean island was from the missing flight.
The debris, part of a wing known as a flaperon, found on the French island of Reunion "does seem to indicate that the plane did come down, more or less where we thought it did, and it suggests that for the first time we might be a little bit closer to solving this baffling mystery", Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop added that Australian search authorities would continue to play a leading role, and that the discovery served as "evidence that will help us locate the more exact area" where it crashed.
"As far as the time is concerned, I hope this finding will enable us to find the plane sooner rather than later," she told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), said he was "confident that we're looking in the right area and we'll find the aircraft there".
But Dolan told ABC radio it was "too early to tell" what happened to the aircraft which disappeared 17 months ago, and that "close examination (of the flaperon) is what's necessary to access how much we can learn".
Australia has been spearheading the hunt for the plane, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board in March last year.
No evidence had been found until the wreckage washed up on the French territory of Reunion, which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said early on Thursday was from the jet.
French officials used more cautious language, saying only that there was a "very high probability" it came from MH370.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said investigators were also examining the barnacles on the flaperon and had taken paint samples.
"It's likely that when you pull the wreckage apart, you get more information, perhaps serial numbers, perhaps further indications of what the repair history might be on this part that might positively prove beyond any doubt that it is from that particular aircraft," Truss added.
Satellite and other data point to the plane coming down in the southern Indian Ocean, and ships have scoured more than 50 000 square kilometres of deep ocean floor.
Authorities plan to search a total of 120 000 square kilometres.
Australia on Wednesday said its drift modelling showed debris could have been carried by wind and currents to Reunion, some 4 000km from the region where MH370 was thought to have gone down.
"We have two vessels operating still out in the Indian Ocean with towed sonar and they will cover the sea... thoroughly in the specified search area," Dolan said. "We hope as the weather improves to put more assets onto the search."
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It remains unclear whether analysis of the part will yield any clues into the cause of the plane's disappearance, but Australian aviation expert Neil Hansford said the flaperon snapping off gave pointers on how the jet entered the water.
"What it does show is that the aircraft has gone into the water in a controlled-type crash and as the engines have hit the water, they've sheared off and this part is straight behind one of the engines," he told AFP.
"There should be at least one other flaperon from the other wing (floating around)."
But he added that at this time "all you can say that it proves is that MH370 definitely crashed into the southern Indian Ocean and it also proves that the search area as identified by the Australian experts... is appropriate."