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Air France jetliner's tail section recovered

Union urges pilots not to fly unless sensors replaced

Brazilian Navy sailors recovered debris from the missing Air France jet in the Atlantic. Two US Navy devices capable of picking up the flight recorders' emergency beacons are on the way. Brazilian Navy sailors recovered debris from the missing Air France jet in the Atlantic. Two US Navy devices capable of picking up the flight recorders' emergency beacons are on the way. (Brazil's Air Force/ Associated Press)
By Marco Sibaja and Bradley Brooks
Associated Press / June 9, 2009
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RECIFE, Brazil - A large tail section of a jetliner bearing Air France's trademark red and blue stripes was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean yesterday, helping narrow the hunt for "black boxes" that could explain what brought down Flight 447.

And some high-tech help is on the way - two US Navy devices capable of picking up the flight recorders' emergency beacons far below on the ocean floor. What caused the Airbus A330-200 to plunge into the middle of the ocean on May 31 with 228 people on board might not be known until those black boxes are found.

But some Air France pilots aren't waiting for a definitive answer.

With investigators looking at the possibility that external speed monitors iced over and gave dangerously false readings to cockpit computers in a thunderstorm, a union is urging pilots to refuse to fly Airbus A330 and A340 planes unless the monitors - known as Pitot tubes - are replaced.

An internal memo sent to Air France pilots yesterday and obtained by the Associated Press urges them to refuse to fly unless at least two of the three Pitot sensors on each plane have been replaced.

The instruments have drawn attention because of other cases in which the monitors have iced over at high altitudes.

The leader of another pilots' union, however, said yesterday that Pitot troubles probably didn't cause the Flight 447 disaster.

Searchers must move quickly to find answers in the cockpit voice and data recorders because acoustic pingers on the boxes begin to fade 30 days after crashes.

While large pieces of plane debris - along with 16 bodies - have helped narrow the search, it remains a daunting task in waters up to 1.5 miles deep and an ocean floor marked by rugged mountains.

"Finding the debris helps because you can eliminate a large part of the ocean," said US Air Force Colonel Willie Berges, chief of the US military liaison office in Brazil and commander of the American military forces supporting the search operation.

But ocean currents over the eight days since the disaster have pushed floating wreckage far and wide, complicating the search, Berges said. "In the sense that as the debris drifts away, you're not sure exactly where the black boxes or other parts of the aircraft are on the bottom of the ocean."

The US Navy has helped locate black boxes in difficult situations before: pings from an Adam Air jet that crashed Jan. 1, 2007, off Indonesia's coast were picked up 25 days later by a Navy team.

The two towed pinger locators the United States is sending are expected to be dropped into the ocean near the debris field by Thursday, Berges said.

The search is focusing on several hundred square miles roughly 400 miles northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast.

The listening devices are 5 feet long and weigh 70 pounds. One will be towed by a Brazilian ship, the other by a French vessel, slowly trawling in a grid pattern across the search area. The devices can detect emergency beacons to a depth of 20,000 feet.

Cables attached to the devices lead to on-board computers, enabling a 10-person team that accompanies each device to listen for pings and to see them on a screen, like a radar spotting objects in air.

The French nuclear attack submarine Emeraude, arriving later this week, also will try to find the acoustic pings, military spokesman Christophe Prazuck said.

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