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Three new bodies found as probe sees 'no link yet' to airspeed sensors

The Brazilian navy has retrieved the bodies of three more victims of the Air France flight crash, bringing the total to 44. France says it has yet to find conclusive evidence pointing to airspeed sensors as the cause of the disaster.


The Brazilian navy on Thursday retrieved the bodies of three more victims of the doomed Air France flight that crashed in the Atlantic, bringing the total number found to 44.

Air France Flight 447 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the Atlantic on June 1, killing all 228 people on board.

The three bodies, the first recovered since Tuesday, were located by French aircraft searching the open seas for bodies or debris from the crashed Airbus A330 airplane.

Brazil said it was determined to bring back to shore as many bodies and pieces of debris as possible from the crash zone, some 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) from the coast.

In Paris, the family of a passenger signed up as a civil plaintiff in a manslaughter probe to gain access to files on the crash, a lawyer said.

"What the families want is just some legitimate answers to their legitimate questions, such as: the plane sent out its last message at 04:10 am and yet no one wondered until 06:30 am why there was no news of the crew. Why is that?" said lawyer Sophie Bottai.

Two other French families have separately filed suit for manslaughter.

Meanwhile, the French agency probing the crash said Thursday it had yet to find conclusive evidence pointing to faulty airspeed monitors as the cause of the disaster.

Speculation surrounding the doomed flight has focused on the Airbus A330's airspeed sensors, known as pitot probes, which may have malfunctioned.

"There is as yet no link between the pitot and the causes of the accident," said a spokeswoman for the Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA) leading the technical inquiry into the June 1 crash.

Air France's chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told reporters the devices would be replaced on all planes as a precaution, after the worst air disaster of the airline's 75-year history.

But he added: "I'm not convinced the probes were the cause of the accident."

Error messages emitted by flight 447 in the minutes before the disaster have suggested that the twin-engine airliner's computers were receiving contradictory airspeed readings.

Investigators say this has been a factor in other incidents in which pilots had to battle to control Airbus jets, and aircrews worldwide have been warned to review their procedures in case of false speed measurements.

And a company report seen by AFP Thursday, showed that Air France Airbus jets experienced at least five incidents last year in which airspeed probes malfunctioned.

"These are all serious incidents," said Guy Ferrer, an official from the Alter pilots union, which represents some Air France flight crews.

The BEA spokeswoman, however, said that agency director Paul-Louis Arslanian had said on Saturday that the team had yet to conclude that a malfunction of the probe led to the plane's demise.

"Problems, and incidents, have been identified. We are studying them," said Arslanian.

"But that's not to say that without replacements a plane is dangerous and with them it isn't," he said.

Gourgeon confirmed that Air France had stepped up a plan to replace and modernise the pitots in all its A330 and A340 long-haul jets.

"This programme has been accelerated because we know that during this accident there was a problem with measuring speed," he said.

"Airbus insists, and they're right, that the probes are safe. It's possible that icing incidents will be reduced with the new type of probes.

"Perhaps there won't be an improvement. We are talking with the crash investigators about this," he said.

Air France decided on April 27 to replace the pitot probes, but received delivery of the first improved models on May 27, less than a week before the crash. The doomed plane had not been updated.

"We began this programme because we thought it would diminish the number of non-catastrophic incidents," said Gourgeon.

The deep-sea hunt for the jet's black boxes intensified off Brazil, with a tugboat equipped with underwater listening devices joining a French nuclear submarine in the search.

If they find a signal, a mini-sub on board a French scientific ship will be deployed to recover the flight recorders, thought to be key to explaining why the jet went down.

The Air France chief however said the chances of finding the black boxes in waters thought to be as deep as 6,100 metres (20,000 feet) were slim.

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