Air France Crash Site Found: 17 Bodies, Wreckage Recovered

By Fernando Exman and | June 8, 2009

Searchers found 15 more bodies from a crashed Air France jet Sunday and retrieved a large amount of debris from the plane that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in the worst air disaster since 2001.

Nearly a week after the Airbus A330 crashed on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris killing all 228 people on board, a total of 17 bodies have been recovered, following the discovery of two unidentified males on Saturday.

Investigators are considering the possibility the speed sensors on Flight 447 may have iced up and Air France said late on Saturday it was accelerating the replacement of speed sensors on all its Airbus long-haul planes.

Brazil’s navy and air force said in a statement on Sunday night that they had retrieved seven more bodies and were transporting them along with the two corpses found on Saturday to the islands of Fernando de Noronha, 230 miles off the coast of Brazil.

Of the nine corpses, four were male and four were female, while the sex of the other body could not be identified. A French ship picked up eight bodies Sunday, the Brazilian military said, without giving further details.

“Hundreds of items are being found and being stored until we know where they should go,” Brazilian Air Force spokesman Henry Munhoz told reporters in the northeastern city of Recife, where the bodies and debris will eventually be brought.

STRUCTURAL COMPONENTS FOUND
Brazil’s military declined to give details about the debris found on Sunday, saying only that it was “structural components.”

Brazilian network Globo reported on its website that a refrigerated truck used to store corpses was waiting on Fernando de Noronha. Brazilian media also said police were taking DNA samples from passengers’ relatives to help identify the bodies.

Twelve Brazilian planes, one equipped with radar equipment that can detect material in the water, two French planes, one French ship and five Brazilian navy ships are searching the area about 680 miles northeast of Brazil’s coast.

France also has sent a nuclear-powered submarine that should arrive on Wednesday to search for the black box flight data recorders that will be crucial to understanding why the plane fell from the sky as it passed storms on Monday.

The plane’s pilots may have set the aircraft at a dangerous speed because they were relying on faulty speed readings, investigators say.

Air France said it had begun the switchover of speed sensors five weeks before the crash but only after disagreeing with Airbus over the plane maker’s proposal to carry out tests before replacing them.
An Airbus spokesman declined to comment and said it could only discuss the investigation with French air authorities.

The head of France’s air accident agency BEA said on Saturday it was too soon to say if problems with the speed sensors, known as pitot tubes, were in any way responsible.

LOST DATA
The agency said the A330 had sent out 24 error messages in four minutes including one indicating a discrepancy in speed data. It said similar problems had happened before.

Air France said it had first noticed in May 2008 that ice in the sensors was causing lost data in planes like the A330, but that it failed to agree with Airbus on steps to take.

According to Air France, Airbus offered to carry out an in-flight test on new sensors this year but the airline decided to go ahead and started changing them anyway from April 27.

It did not say whether the crashed plane had the new sensors but its last maintenance hangar visit was on April 16.

Some of the A330s 50 or so other operators defended the plane’s safety record at an airlines meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, saying the crash was an isolated incident.

Airbus has faced problems with the speed sensors dating to at least 2001, forcing changes in equipment as well as the pilot’s flight manual, according to online filings.

In 2001, France reported several cases of sudden fluctuation of A330 or A340 airspeed data during severe icing conditions and Airbus was ordered to change the cockpit manual, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

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