The discovery of an apparent piece of debris from missing flight MH370 was all the more remarkable for the fact that the find was no coincidence - but the result of

a one-man mission to hunt down wreckage from the airliner.

It is a search that has defied the efforts of multiple nations spending tens of millions of dollars, with a fleet of warships and hundreds of searchers at their disposal.

American adventurer Blaine Gibson said Thursday that when he discovered part of an aircraft on a sandbar off the coast of Mozambique, he initially thought it was from a small plane, and not from the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared two years ago with 239 people aboard.

If confirmed that the piece of tail section came from Flight MH370, a small piece of the puzzle will have been found, but it might not be enough to help solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.

In an interview, Gibson described how a boat operator took him to a sandbar named Paluma and then called him over after seeing a piece of debris with “NO STEP” written on it.

“It was so light,” said Gibson, who has told reporters that he has spent a long time searching for evidence of missing Flight MH370.

Photos of the debris appear to show the fixed leading edge of the right-hand tail section of a Boeing 777, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to speak publicly. Flight MH370 is the only known missing 777.

Gibson said the discovery happened after he decided to go “somewhere exposed to the ocean” on the last day of a trip to the Mozambican coastal town of Vilankulo.

“At first, all I found were usual beach detritus — flip flops, cigarette lighters. Then ‘Junior’ called me over,” said Gibson, using the nickname of the boat operator.

“I think, ‘Wow, this looks like it’s from an airplane but it looks like it’s from a small airplane because it’s very light and very thin. But I suppose there’s a chance that it could be from the plane or from one of those others.’

“In any case, it needs to be preserved, brought to the authorities and investigated,” he said. “So yes, my heart was thumping, there was anticipation, there was excitement.”

But Gibson said he wants “to exercise caution. We don’t yet know what this piece is ... Until it’s been investigated by the experts, I warn not to jump to any conclusions.”

After being interviewed, Gibson went to the Maputo airport to take a flight to Malaysia to participate in second anniversary commemorations of the disappearance.

“It’s important to keep it in perspective,” Gibson said of his find. “This is about the families of the 239 victims, who haven’t seen their relatives for two years now.”

Gibson, who is from Seattle, said the piece of debris is now in the hands of civil aviation authorities in Mozambique, and that he expects it to be transferred to their Australian counterparts.

He said that he had come to Mozambique as part of a dream to see every country in the world.

“It has been my ambition since I was 7 to visit every country in the world. Malawi was number 176, Mozambique was number 177,” he said.

According to New York Magazine, Gibson has spent much of the past year searching for traces of the missing airliner. Gibson has travelled to the Maldives Islands to investigate reports of a plane flying low at the time of the disappearance, Reunion Island to interview a man who found another section of the plane, and met with Australian deputy prime minister Warren Truss to discuss Australia’s seabed search for the plane.

The location of the debris matches investigators’ theories about where wreckage from the plane would have ended up, according to Australian officials.

The plane disappeared on March 8, 2014 and is believed to have crashed somewhere in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean, far off Australia’s west coast and about 6,000km east of Mozambique. Authorities have long predicted that any debris from the plane that isn’t on the ocean floor would eventually be carried by currents to the east coast of Africa.

Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester said Thursday the location of the debris in Mozambique matches investigators’ drift modelling and would therefore confirm that search crews are looking in the right part of the Indian Ocean for the main underwater wreckage. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai also said the location of the debris lines up with investigators’ predictions.

People who have handled the part, called a horizontal stabilizer, say it appears to be made of fiberglass composite on the outside, with aluminum honeycombing on the inside, the US official said.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is running the search for the plane in remote waters off Australia’s west coast, said the part is expected to be transported to Australia for examination.

Malaysian representatives from the nation’s Civil Aviation department and Malaysia Airlines were heading to Mozambique to discuss the find, Liow said.

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.