Story highlights

Experts reveal what investigators might look for to tie plane part to MH370

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared nearly 17 months ago with 239 people on board

Australian, French and Malaysian experts are due to examine the part on Wednesday

Annapolis, Maryland CNN  — 

It may be the most high-profile piece of beach debris in modern history.

Is the flaperon found last week on the French island of Reunion the first piece of physical evidence recovered from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

Australian, French and Malaysian experts are due to begin examining it Wednesday in a suburb of Toulouse, France.

Related: More on the investigation

It’s hard to know exactly what experts will be looking for, but forensic investigators at a private lab in Maryland have done similar work. First, everything that scientists do with the flaperon will be closely documented, including with video.

“We want to make sure there is no question that when we got it we treated it properly [and] we didn’t alter it any way,” said Joe Reynolds, who has worked to solve other aviation mysteries, such as the loss of Air France Flight 447 between South America and France in 2009.

Investigators will measure the flaperon and look for any unique markings, serial numbers or manufacturing stamps, Reynolds told CNN. They’ll confirm that the part came from a Boeing 777 — the same type of airliner as Flight 370 — and they’ll examine and interpret damage to the part.

One tool Reynolds expects investigators to use is a special machine that can scan the airplane part and produce a 3-D image of it on a screen.

“We’ll see if there is sand embedded, or if there are signs of fire, or whether the metal wore out from fatigue in the air,” he said.

A high-powered microscope will analyze the metal composition of the part as well as its paint. Specific paint could match the part with the airline.

CNN aviation analyst David Soucie said that investigators, when they’re observing the part, should ignore everything they already know about MH370, the Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing flight that disappeared nearly 17 months ago with 239 people on board.

He told CNN “New Day” anchor Alisyn Camerota Wednesday three things experts likely would be looking for, and what they might learn.

1. Barnacles on the part might reveal where the metal broke away from the plane, because paint on other portions of a Boeing 777’s surface is microbe-resistant.

2. Barnacles absent on front and top of the part might show where the part came off at its mounting points, and that it was not crushed during impact with other metal.

3. If metal on the part isn’t twisted, it would imply that it was not in a deployed position during a gliding landing onto water.