The authorities searching for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have launched an investigation to establish whether some debris found on the west coast of Australia could be linked to the missing jet.
Pictures of the material, described as looking like sheet metal with distinct rivets, have been passed to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) for further analysis.
The debris, discovered by a member of the public walking on the beach near Augusta in Western Australia, is a rare visual lead and comes at a point when, experts said, there is a good chance material from a plane crash in the Indian Ocean would start washing up.
Officials have nonetheless advised caution, with ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan telling reporters that “the more we look at it [the debris], the less excited we get”.
He said a full analysis could take a number of days, but added: “It's sufficiently interesting for us to take a look at the photographs. We take all leads seriously.”
Even if investigators fail to link the latest piece of debris to the jet that vanished on 8 March with 239 people on board, the Western Australia emergency services minister Joe Francis said there was a decent chance material on the plane would make its way to land at some point.
“It wouldn't surprise me if sooner or later ... if there was debris floating, it would end up on the West Australian coast,” he told ABC local radio in Perth.
“Weather systems in the southern hemisphere predominantly move in a clockwise direction, and this time of the year the Leeuwin Current is pretty much at its strongest.
“Anything in that area over 50 days travelling at two knots, say four kilometres an hour, sooner or later is likely to have been caught up in it [the current].”
In pictures: Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
In pictures: Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
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A family member of a passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 burns incense as he prays at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing
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Family members of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 burn incense to pray at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing
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A family member of a passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 comforts another relative as they gather to pray at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing
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Relatives of passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cry as they gather at the Lama Temple in Beijing. Chinese relatives marked 100 days since the plane went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing by offering prayers and burning incense at the buddhist temple
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Relatives of passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 offer prayers at the Lama Temple in Beijing
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A Chinese relative of passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 prays at the Lama Temple in Beijing
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Chinese relatives of passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 hold incense sticks and pray at the Lama Temple in Beijing
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Intan Maizura Othman (34) wife of MH370 fligh attendant Hazrin Hasnan holds placard during an event to remember the 100th day of the missing crews and passengers of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 in Damansara, Selangor
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A young relative tries to stick paper planes on a board during an event to remember the 100th day of the missing crews and passengers of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 in Damansara, Selangor
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Pictures of crews and passengers is displayed during an event to remember the 100th day of the missing crews and passengers of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 in Damansara, Selangor
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Chinese police men try to prevent relatives of Chinese passengers onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH370 from marching to the Malaysian embassy from a hotel in Beijing
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Boatswain's Mate, Able Seaman Morgan Macdonald (L) observing markers from a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3K Orion at sea in the Southern Indian Ocean. An oil slick in the Indian Ocean is not from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, officials said when insisting underwater search efforts would be 'pursued to their completion'
13/13 Search for flight MH370
Craig Turner from Phoenix International monitoring the Artemis' depth and speed as the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle scans the ocean floor for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 in the southern Indian Ocean
Meanwhile, the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said that it would not be the end of the underwater search if the submersible Bluefin 21 failed to find any clue in the area it is currently scanning.
The submarine has scanned more than 80 per cent of the 310-square kilometre (120-square mile) seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest has been found.
When that search is complete, more powerful sonar equipment is expected to be brought in to search further and deeper than the capability of Bluefin 21.
A the same time, the search coordinators said visual searches would continue in a bid to locate debris in a wider area around 1,600km (1,000 miles) northwest of Perth.
Though a tropical cyclone suspended the air search for a second day, officials said 12 ships joined Wednesday’s search covering a stretch of around 38,000 square km (14,500 square miles) of sea.