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France

Tail section, 24 bodies recovered from crash site

Video by Marian HENBEST

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-09

Searchers have recovered 24 bodies and a section of the tail fin of the Air France 447 jet that disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean nearly a week ago, while investigators probe whether a defective speedometer caused the tragedy.

AFP - Brazil on Monday recovered the tail fin belonging to the Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic a week ago killing 228 people, as well as more human remains from the doomed flight.

Twenty-four bodies so far have been fished out of the Atlantic, Brazilian officials said.

The tail fin discovery is the most important element to date in the quest to find out why the Airbus A330 went down June 1 as it flew from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. No distress call was received from the pilots.

The plane's black boxes were mounted in the tail section, and the fin's location could narrow the underwater search for those devices by a French submarine expected to arrive in the zone on Wednesday.

A Brazilian frigate was expected early Tuesday in the Fernando de Noronha archipelago carrying the first 16 bodies along with airplane debris, air force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Henry Munhoz told reporters.

From there, the bodies and debris will be taken to the mainland coastal city of Recife, where investigators hope to identify the remains by checking dental records and DNA samples provided by relatives.

In Recife French investigators will also pore over the plane's components.

The other bodies would follow "at an appropriate time," according to an air force statement.

Brazilian and French teams continued to scour the crash zone 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) off Brazil's northeast coast for more bodies and pieces of wreckage.

The clock is ticking for finding the black boxes, believed to lie on the sea floor at a depth of up to 6,000 meters (19,700 feet). Their homing beacons will cease to operate in three weeks.

The US Navy said on Sunday it would send two towable pinger locators and a crew of around 20 to the scene later this week to join the hunt for the devices.

If the voice and data recorders are found, a French research sub -- the same one that has explored the wreck of the Titanic -- will be deployed to recover them. That small sub, the Nautile, is also expected to arrive within days.

The disaster is the worst aviation accident since 2001, and unprecedented in Air France's 75-year history.

Early suspicions are focusing on the Airbus A330's airspeed sensors, which appear to have malfunctioned in the minutes before the catastrophe, according to some of the 24 automatic data warnings sent by the plane.

Investigators are looking at whether the sensors, known as pitots, could have iced over, possibly leading the Air France pilots to fly into a storm in the zone that day without knowing their airspeed.

France's transport minister Dominique Bussereau said on the weekend that could have led the pilots to set the plane at "too low a speed, which can cause it to stall, or too high a speed, which can lead to the plane ripping up as it approached the speed of sound, as the outer skin is not designed to resist such speed."

An internal Air France memo dated November 2008 and seen by AFP mentions "a significant number of incidents" related to the pitots.

A US airline, US Airways, said Monday it was replacing the pitots on its nine Airbus A330-300s.
 

Date created : 2009-06-09

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