After all the false leads in the year and a third since Malaysian Flight 370 vanished, we now have a real possibility that a piece of it has washed ashore, a sort of cryptic message in a bottle that may have drifted thousands of miles from wherever the plane’s gravesite—and that of its 227 passengers and 12 crew—lies.

Unofficial reports are that the piece is indeed from a Boeing 777, the type of plane involved in the disappearance, and that there are no other 777s that are unaccounted for. Experts have been dispatched to identify it further and more exactly, aided by a number that was found on it which might be some sort of component number. The item appears from photos to be similar to a plane part known as a flaperon, which is a lightweight piece of an aircraft wing that “has sealed chambers, making it buoyant.”

The buoyancy could help explain how it ended up on an island. Notice that the place it was found is named Saint-Andre de la Reunion Island, otherwise known as Reunion Island—a fitting name for the site of a plane’s re-entry from the land of the lost into the realm of human awareness.

We can only hope it’s from Flight 370, because the mystery of the airplane’s whereabouts and exact fate has been especially excruciating for the families of the passengers and crew. The majority of passengers were from China, and many of their families don’t want the debris to be from Flight 370, or are at best ambivalent about it, which is completely understandable. What a horrific experience they’ve undergone, and what a wrenching series of downs and ups and downs:

On Thursday, several families said they still believe, against the odds, that the missing passengers are out there, or that this is another false alarm. To believe otherwise is to accept the worst.

They called on the Chinese press to stop printing “hearsay,” and said they were not ready to accept that the wreckage found on Reunion may be a piece of the missing plane…

They have spent the last year locked in Kafkaesque nightmare: cloistered in a hotel for weeks waiting for news, told not to talk to the media, fed false information, and when they made too much noise, reportedly beaten by Chinese police.

Absent verifiable facts, the rumor mill went wild. Some still believe that the plane was intercepted, perhaps by Islamic extremists or the CIA, and that their relatives could [be] alive, waiting to be rescued.

“Closure” is a very overused word. But if ever people needed it, it would be the families of the passengers and crew of Flight 370.

It had been predicted that if the wreckage were ever found, one of the places that might occur could be in eastern Africa or in regions near it, because of the way tides work in the Indian Ocean. Reunion is somewhat east of Madagascar, which would place it roughly in the expected area—an area that is quite large but still circumscribed. Unfortunately, however, even if the debris is from the plane and it confirms a crash, that doesn’t help to point towards a more precise answer to the question of where the rest of the wreckage might be found or even where best to keep searching for it.

A suitcase also found on the beach at Reunion has been turned over to authorities, but it could be a false lead because there is nothing to tie it to Flight 370 so far. Reunion is no desert island, either; it is a resort and sugar-raising area with 800,000 residents, so a suitcase could have come from many other sources.

This article indicates that, if it is determined that the flaperon is from the missing plane, it might put an end to some of the conspiracy theories that involve the idea that it landed safely somewhere. But those who believe in conspiracy theories can be resistant to contrary evidence that would seem convincing to non-conspiracy-theorists. For example, it’s not difficult to imagine that, if this plane debris is declared to have been from the doomed flight, some of those who believe it never crashed will reply that the flaperon was fabricated and planted by lying authorities in a further coverup.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]