- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

FERNANDO DE NORONHA, Brazil | A Brazilian helicopter crew recovered the first wreckage from Air France Flight 447 on Thursday, pulling a cargo pallet from the sea. No sign of human remains have been spotted, and Air France has told families that the jetliner broke apart, killing all 228 people on board.

Two buoys - standard emergency equipment on planes - also were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean about 340 miles northeast of Brazil’s northern Fernando de Noronha islands by the helicopter crew, which was working off a Brazilian navy ship.

Air France’s Chief Executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told family members at a private meeting that the Airbus A330 disintegrated, either in the air or when it slammed into the ocean and there were no survivors, according to Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc, a grief counselor who was asked by Paris prosecutors to help counsel relatives.

The plane disappeared en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on Sunday night, the deadliest crash in Air France history and the world’s worst commercial air accident since 2001.

With the crucial black box voice and data recorders still missing, investigators are relying heavily on the plane’s automated messages to help reconstruct what happened as the jet flew through towering thunderstorms.

The messages detail a series of failures that end with its systems shutting down, suggesting the plane broke apart in the sky, according to an aviation industry official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the crash.

“What is clear is that there was no landing. There’s no chance the escape slides came out,” said Mr. Denoix de Saint-Marc, who heads a victims’ association for UTA Flight 772, which Libyan terrorists downed with a suitcase bomb in 1989.

France’s accident investigation agency said only two findings have been established so far: One is that the series of automatic messages sent from Flight 447 gave conflicting signals about the plane’s speed; the other is that the flight path went through dangerously stormy weather.

The agency warned against any “hasty interpretation or speculation” after the French newspaper Le Monde reported, without naming sources, that the Air France plane was flying at the wrong speed.

Seas were calm Thursday with periodic rain as ships converged on three debris sites to recover wreckage, but “extreme cloudiness” prevented U.S. satellites from helping, said French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck.

“The clock is ticking on finding debris before they spread out and before they sink or disappear,” Mr. Prazuck said. “That’s the priority now; the next step will be to look for the black boxes.”

French planes and a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane joined Brazil’s air force, whose pilots guided ships to debris areas across a search zone of 2,300 square miles, said Brazil air force Gen. Ramon Borges Cardoso.

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