By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Kuala Lumpur has asked for more help in the search for a Malaysia Airlines plane missing for more than a year, with France to send planes, boats and helicopters to scour the coast of a remote Indian Ocean island where debris washed up.
Investigators on the French-governed island of Reunion have collected a piece of wing that Malaysia has said came from MH370, the first real clue in what has become one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
MH370, a Boeing <BA.N> 777, disappeared in March last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them Chinese.
A piece of wing known as a flaperon was found on a Reunion beach last week and Malaysia said on Thursday paint color and a maintenance seal were matches for MH370, the first piece of direct evidence that it had crashed in the sea.
The barnacle-covered piece of wing debris was flown to mainland France for investigation. Reunion is about 3,700 km (2,300 miles) west of the primary search area off the southwest coast of Australia.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said he would seek expert advice before asking Australia, which is leading the underwater search, to broaden search efforts.
However, France said on Friday it was ramping up its search off the coast of Reunion after additional debris, including a plane window and aluminum foil were found. The latest finds have not been confirmed as coming from MH370.
"We have decided to deploy additional aerial and maritime assets to search for potential new debris off Reunion Island," France's Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website.
The French decision to devote additional planes, helicopters, patrol boats and personnel to the area came as Malaysia also appealed to the governments of Mauritius and Madagascar east of Reunion to help widen the search area.
However, Malaysia's request to extend the original search area in the southern Indian Ocean is likely to meet with resistance in Australia, which has largely funded the search effort and is opposed to expanding expensive underwater searches without strong evidence.
An initial search of a 60,000 sq km (23,000 sq miles) patch of sea floor has been extended to another 60,000 sq km but has so far returned no evidence.
The discovery of the flaperon sparked anger and scepticism among grieving Chinese families who want clearer answers and have accused Malaysia of withholding information.
Brian Alexander, a lawyer with U.S. firm Kreindler & Kreindler LLC, which represents 48 families of MH370 passengers from around the world, said the flaperon alone would be unlikely to present enough evidence to inform a legal case.
"One piece is unlikely to be to important as to causation," Alexander said. "It they recover additional pieces and additional evidence, there could be a different dynamic from the legal perspective concerning airline manufacturers."
(Additional reporting by Cecile Lefort and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY, Tim Hepher in PARIS, Siva Govindasamy in SINGAPORE and Praveen Menon in KUALA LUMPUR; Writing by Matt Siegel; Editing by Paul Tait)