Air France bodies flown to city

2009-06-07 08:29

Fernando de Noronha - Brazilian search aircraft late on Saturday spotted seats and part of a plane wing in the Atlantic where an Air France jet went down nearly a week ago, officials said after two bodies and other items were recovered from the area.

"As well as the bodies there are various remains of the aircraft," air force spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Henry Munhoz told reporters in the northeastern city of Recife.

"Plane seats, part of the wing (and) various other items (were) localised," Munhoz said.

The finds - the first from the crash - were being brought to the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, the closest inhabited spot to the zone where they were found, for initial inspection by five Brazilian forensic police.

Relatives gave DNA samples

From there, they were to be flown to the mainland city of Recife for further analysis by French officials leading the investigation into what sent Air France flight 447 plunging into the ocean June 1 with 228 people on board.

The two male bodies the Brazilian navy recovered in the zone earlier on Saturday would be catalogued here and also flown to Recife, Munhoz said.

"Recife will be the final destination for the bodies as well as the debris from the aircraft," he said, adding that "details of the (personal) items collected will be divulged to the relatives and only to the relatives."

The spokesperson added that "the state of the bodies will not be divulged."

Relatives of those aboard the Air France flight have already given DNA samples to help identify their loved ones.

Although the black boxes containing vital data on the flight's final minutes have not yet been located, early suspicions are focusing on a possible malfunction of the Airbus A330's air speed sensors as it flew into a fierce storm.

French submarines helping

French investigators said Saturday the plane, four hours into a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, suffered multiple systems failures in its final moments and that speed monitors had failed on other Airbus planes.

Airbus on Friday issued a notice urging all pilots of its jets to review a 2001 warning on the procedures to follow if speed indicators give conflicting readings and force the autopilot to cut out.

Meanwhile Air France said it was stepping up replacement of speed monitors on its Airbus A330s, amid speculation that a faulty indication might have been a factor in the loss of the Rio de Janeiro-Paris flight.

In a statement, Air France said that in May last year it began noticing "incidents of loss of airspeed information during cruise flight" on its twin-engine A330s and four-engine A340s, and informed Airbus of the problem.

The device in question is the pitot probe - usually affixed to the leading edge of a wing - which measures the force of the air through which an aircraft passes.

Combined with a pressure reading from a static port on the fuselage, it tells the flight crew how fast the aircraft is going through the air.

Search for black boxes

French submarines were on their way to help with the hunt for the black boxes, as experts scrutinized the debris found so far searching for clues.

On Saturday Brazilian Colonel Jorge Amaral told reporters in Recife that the air force was able to "confirm the recovery from the water of debris and bodies from the Air France plane."

A blue plane seat, a nylon backpack containing a computer and vaccination card, and a leather briefcase with an Air France ticket inside were the first objects plucked from the sea, according to Amaral and an official statement.

The discoveries took place 450km northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands, themselves 370km from the mainland.

The precise spot was 70km northeast of the point of last communication with the plane, a series of automatically sent messages signalling multiple shutdowns of onboard systems.

Air France was trying to confirm that the recovered seat came from the flight by checking the serial number, which Amaral gave as 23701103B331-0.

French investigators said the Air France airliner sent 24 automatic error messages just before the crash, and its autopilot was disengaged immediately after ones showing conflicting speed readings given by sensors.