Monday, April 4, 2011

Airbus A330 Recovery: Bodies and Wreckage

Specialists could start pulling up bodies and wreckage from an Air France plane found on the Atlantic Ocean floor within a month, after the stunning deep-water discovery raised new hope of determining the cause of the 2009 crash.

Investigators said Monday they still haven’t found the plane’s “black box” flight recorders, and it’s unclear whether they remain attached to the fuselage, or whether they’re even still intact after nearly two years in sandy depths of 3,900 meters (2.4 miles).

All 228 people aboard the plane were killed when Flight 447, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, slammed into the ocean northeast of Brazil on June 1, 2009, after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm. The cause of the crash — the worst in Air France’s history — remains unclear.

French officials said Monday that undersea robots have located bodies, motors and most of the Airbus jet in a fourth underwater search operation, after the last two search efforts turned up nothing. Investigators have said without the recorders, the cause of the crash may never be determined.

France’s air accident investigation agency, the BEA, showed photos of the wreckage — intact wheels from the plane’s landing gear, two engines dusted with silt, a panel of the fuselage with oval window openings.

The BEA did not show images of any bodies. French officials said identifiable bodies have been found and will be raised to the ocean surface, but would not say how many or further comment out of respect for the victims’ families.

Fifty bodies were found during the first phase of the search, along with more than 600 pieces of the plane scattered on the sea. No bodies or debris have been found since, until now.

Victims’ families, who had pushed for continued search efforts despite the high cost, cautiously welcomed the surprise announcement.

BEA chief Jean-Paul Troadec told reporters Monday that he’s confident that engineers can still read the data and recordings in the black boxes, if they weren’t damaged in the crash.

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