THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Air France jet wreckage from ’09 found off Brazil

By Greg Keller
Associated Press / April 5, 2011

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

Investigators said yesterday they still haven’t found the plane’s “black box’’ flight recorders, and it is unclear whether they remain attached to the fuselage, or whether they are even still intact after nearly two years in sandy depths of 2.4 miles.

The team involved in this weekend’s discovery, which used undersea robots, was led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

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 the robots 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 that 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 brought to the surface, but would not say how many or comment further 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 news.

Jean-Paul Troadec, head of the French air investigation agency, told reporters yesterday that he is confident that engineers can still read the data and recordings in the black boxes if they were not damaged in the crash.

The recorders should be in the rear of the fuselage, but it is possible they were ejected in the shock of the crash, he said. If the black boxes are located, they may not need to bring up the rest of the plane, because the reason for the search was to shed light on the cause of the crash, he said.

The recovery could begin in three weeks to a month, said Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France’s minister overseeing the environment and transport.

Finding the cause took on new importance last month when a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and the plane’s manufacturer, Airbus.

Air France and Airbus are financing the estimated $12.5 million cost of the new, fourth search effort that started last month, but the government will fund the retrieval effort. About $28 million has already been spent on the three previous searches for the jet’s wreckage.

The search is being targeted in an area of about 3,900 square miles, several hundred miles off Brazil’s northeastern coast.

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