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Navy ships rush to recover debris of crashed Airbus

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT , Oliver FARRY

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-06-04

Brazilian authorities have confirmed that debris spotted in the Atlantic belonged to the Air France jet which vanished on Monday. A memorial service was held at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris to remember the 228 people on board.

An aerial and naval operation involving Brazilian, French, and US aircraft was underway Wednesday to recover debris -- and maybe bodies -- from the Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean overnight on Sunday.

Three cargo ships -- one French and two Dutch -- are already at the crash site, having been rerouted there on Tuesday.

They will be joined from Wednesday by five Brazilian navy vessels able to recover debris and bodies. France also sent a ship carrying two mini-submarines capable of operating at depths of 6,000 metres.

As the investigation into the causes of the disappearance intensified, French officials said they may never discover why an Air France aircraft crashed into the Atlantic killing 228 people and cautioned they might not even find the plane's black boxes on the ocean floor.

Authorities are still at a loss to explain why the aircraft dropped out of the sky as it ploughed through storms over the Atlantic Ocean.

On Wednesday, BEA, the French agency that investigates aviation accidents, said it was not optimistic that the AF 447’s black boxes, which contain flight information and voice recordings, could be recovered.

The recorders are meant to send off homing signals for 30 days, after which it will be extremely difficult to find them.

Agency director Paul Louis Arslanian said he was "not totally optimistic" that the boxes would be recovered from the "deep and mountainous" place into which they had probably sunk in the Atlantic. He added that "no element leads us to think the plane had a problem before its departure from Rio."

According to Arslanian, the office plans on handing in an initial report into the crash by the end of June.

Meanwhile, Brazilian Navy ships equipped with recovery equipment battled tough weather to reach the crash zone where plane seats, metal debris, an orange buoy and wiring were spotted.

"The remains, the wreckage, are from the Air France plane," a sombre Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobim said at a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, where the plane took off for Paris on Sunday night.

So far no bodies have been sighted in flyovers by the air force, which first spotted the debris on Tuesday.

Recovery will likely be extremely difficult, not only because of the depth of the ocean but also because of powerful currents and storms in the zone.


Officials from France have arrived in Brazil to lead the investigation with the help of Brazilian teams.

French Prime Minister François Fillon said “no hypothesis” was “privileged above others for the moment”.

One theory is that a lightning strike or brutal weather set off a series of faults. But lightning routinely hits planes and alone could not explain the crash, aviation experts said.

Other theories advanced by experts include pilot error, mechanical defects or even the remote possibility of terrorism.

The 58-year-old French captain had been flying for Air France since 1988 and had a great deal of experience, the airline said.

Bound from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on Sunday night, Flight AF 447 vanished from the radar, and no mayday distress calls were received from the pilots, leaving the disappearance of the aircraft a mystery. However, the aircraft sent of a series of automated technical messages pointing to several failures.


The evidence of the plane's downing extinguished any lingering hopes relatives had of finding their loved ones and confirmed the worst civil aviation accident since 2001, when an American Airlines jet crashed in New York, killing all 260 people on board.

Brazil on Tuesday announced three days of national mourning for those who perished on the plane. More than half of those travelling in the full plane were either French or Brazilian. The others came from 30 countries, mostly in Europe. The 216 passengers included seven children and a baby.

Religious services were held in Paris on Wednesday, including one in Notre-Dame cathedral attended by President Nicolas Sarkozy, where relatives of missing passengers heard a condolence message from the pope.

Date created : 2009-06-03