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Brazilian official says evidence suggests no explosion

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT , Oliver FARRY


Latest update : 2009-06-04

Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said the existence of fuel stains in the water likely ruled out an explosion, undercutting speculation about a bomb attack, as search crews flying over the Atlantic continued to find debris.

Reuters - Search crews flying over the Atlantic found debris from a crashed Air France jet spread over more than 55 miles (90 km) of ocean on Wednesday, reinforcing the possibility it broke up in the air.

Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said the existence of large fuel stains in the water likely ruled out an explosion, undercutting speculation about a bomb attack.

“The existence of oil stains could exclude the possibility of a fire or explosion,” he said at a news conference in Brasilia. “If we have oil stains, it means it wasn’t burned.”

Experts said extreme turbulence or decompression during stormy weather may have caused the Airbus A330, which took off from Rio de Janeiro bound for Paris on Sunday night, to splinter over the ocean with 228 people on board.

Two Brazilian navy ships arrived in the crash area, about 685 miles (1,100 km) northeast of Brazil’s coast, but had not yet retrieved any debris by nightfall. French officials said they may never discover why the plane went down as the flight data and voice recorders may be lost at the bottom of the ocean.

Air force pilots searching the area have reported no signs of survivors. Officials said recovering bodies may be extremely difficult.

“As well as bodies sinking, you also have problems along the coast of Pernambuco (state) that you know about,” Jobim said in reference to sharks. He added bodies could take several days to float to the surface.

Newly spotted traces of the plane included a 12-mile (20-km) fuel stain and various objects spread across a 3-mile (5-km) area, including one metallic object 23 feet (7 metres) in diameter.

The Air France plane sent no mayday signals before crashing, only automatic messages showing electrical faults and a loss of pressure shortly after it entered stormy weather.


“I continue to think violent turbulence caused structural damage to the plane,” said Jose Carlos Pereira, former head of Brazil’s airport authority Infraero.

“Its fall was localized but destruction was total,” Pereira told Reuters.

Aviation trade publications focused on warnings in recent months issued by U.S. and European regulators about electronic
systems on A330s and A340s that could throw planes into sharp dives. The directives covered ADIRUs—air data inertial
reference units—that feed crucial information to the cockpit to help fly planes.

With officials struggling to explain how a modern aircraft could have crashed in stormy weather that is routine on the transatlantic route, there was speculation a bomb could have caused the worst crash in Air France’s 75-year history.

The airline said on Wednesday it had received an anonymous telephone warning that a bomb was on a flight leaving Buenos Aires on May 27, four days before the crash. A spokesman said the plane was checked, no bomb was found and the aircraft left an hour and a half late. He added that such alerts were relatively common.


France is dispatching a mini-submarine that can explore to a depth of 19,680 feet (6,000 metres) and will try to locate the Airbus’ flight data and voice recorders, which could shed light on the crash.

The recorders are designed to send homing signals for up to 30 days when they hit water, but there is no guarantee they even survived the impact with the sea, said Paul Louis Arslanian, head of France’s air accident investigation agency.

Given a broken seabed and depths of up to about 2 miles (3 km), finding flight recorders will be very difficult.

“I am not totally optimistic. We cannot rule out that we will not find the flight recorders,” Arslanian said.

Brazil will gather aircraft debris on Fernando de Noronha, a sparsely populated volcanic archipelago and nature reserve off its northeastern coast.

It has mobilized 11 air force planes, four navy vessels with divers and a tanker for the retrieval operation that Jobim said was being carried out in a 120-mile (193-km) radius.

An air force plane equipped with a radar and infrared sensor continued the search throughout the night.

Jorge Amaral, a Brazilian air force colonel, said the long strip of metal found on Wednesday was the biggest piece that search crews had seen so far.

“It could be part of the fuselage or the tail,” he told reporters.

The French investigation will have its first report ready by the end of the month, and will be led by Alain Bouillard, who took charge of the investigation into the crash of an Air France Concorde in 2000.

France held an ecumenical religious ceremony for relatives and friends of those on the plane at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Wednesday, attended by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In Rio de Janeiro, Air France released a list of Brazilian passengers on board, excluding a few names by request of family members. A memorial mass will be held there on Thursday.

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 : 2009-06-04