Search parties scouring the sea bed off Brazil’s northeast coast have recovered the second of two flight recorders from the Air France aircraft that crashed into the Atlantic in June 2009, investigators said on Tuesday.
The discovery of the audio recorder, two days after the flight data recorder was fished up, brings investigators even closer to the cause of the crash as it should hold recordings of cockpit conversations during the flight’s final moments.
“We can now hope to find out what truly happened within the next three weeks,” French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani told RTL radio.
The investigation team identified the Cockpit Voice Recorder at (2150 GMT) on Monday 2 May, 2011, France’s BEA air accident inquiry office said in a statement. The device was hauled up to the team’s ship at 0240 GMT on Tuesday.
A BEA spokeswoman said the black box would be shipped back to France, probably by the end of next week.
“The outside appears to be in relatively good shape,” she said, adding that it would only be possible to see if the recorder was “usable” once it was opened, which would not happen until it was back in France.
A photograph of the recorder on BEA’s website shows a bright orange cylindrical device that looks scuffed and battered but otherwise intact. So-called black boxes are painted orange so that they can be spotted more easily in wreckage.
The Airbus 330-203 airliner plunged into the sea off Brazil en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro in June 2009 after hitting stormy weather, killing all 228 passengers and crew.
The discovery of the two flight recorders follows nearly two years of on-off search efforts over a 10,000 square kilometer (app.6250 sq. miles) area of seabed.
Theories about the cause of the disaster have focused on the possible icing up of the aircraft’s speed sensors, which seemed to give inconsistent readings before communication was lost.
Depending on how much data can be retrieved and how clearly it pinpoints the cause of the crash, lawyers say information from the black boxes could lead to a flood of liability claims.
Any fresh conclusions on the cause will also be fed into a judicial probe already under way in which Airbus and Air France have both been placed under formal investigation.
(Reporting by Jean-Stephane Brosse, Catherine Bremer and Brian Love, editing by Tim Pearce)