Airlines move to replace speed monitors
Instruments may have contributed to Air France crash
RECIFE, Brazil - Airlines moved quickly yesterday to replace speed monitors like those suspected of feeding false information to the computers on Air France Flight 447 and possibly leading the plane to break up over the Atlantic Ocean.
Seventeen more bodies were pulled from the sea yesterday, bringing the number recovered to 41. Another 187 have yet to be found. The first remains were brought to land by helicopter and will be flown to this coastal South American city today for identification.
Federal police began visiting families in Rio de Janeiro to collect genetic material - hair, blood, a cheek swab - to help identify the corpses.
Figuring out where the victims were seated and studying their injuries might help explain what brought down Flight 447 as it flew into thunderstorms on May 31, according to Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.
With the plane's data recorders still missing, investigators have been focusing on the possibility that external speed monitors - called Pitot tubes - iced over and gave false readings to the plane's computers in a thunderstorm.
A key part of the investigation relies on a burst of 24 automatic messages the plane sent during the last minutes of the flight. The signals showed the plane's autopilot was not on, officials said, but it was not clear if the autopilot had been switched off by the pilots or had stopped working due to conflicting airspeed readings.
The L-shaped metal Pitot tubes jut from the wing or fuselage of a plane, and are usually heated to prevent icing. The pressure of air entering the tubes lets internal sensors measure the speed and angle of flight. A malfunctioning tube could mislead computers controlling the plane to dangerously accelerate or decelerate.
Air France said it began replacing the tubes on its A330 and A340 jets in May after pilots reported several incidents of icing leading to a loss of airspeed data, and that it had already replaced the Pitots in smaller A320 jets after similar problems were reported.
"What we know is that other planes that have experienced incorrect airspeed indications have had the same Pitots. And airplanes with the new Pitot tubes have never had such problems," said Air France pilot Eric Derivry, a spokesman for the SNPL pilots union.