- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009


RECIFE, Brazil — Search ships methodically worked through a “sea of debris” from a doomed Air France jet Sunday, recovering four more bodies near the spot where the Airbus A330 is believed to have gone down a week ago.

Six bodies have been retrieved since Saturday and ships were headed to pick up more Sunday afternoon after pilots participating in a grid search reported additional sightings. The bodies have been found in an area about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from where the jet sent out messages signaling electrical failures and loss of cabin pressure.

“We’re navigating through a sea of debris,” Brazilian Navy Capt. Giucemar Tabosa Cardoso said.

Brazil’s military is not releasing information about bodies or debris that have not been taken aboard ships, after sea trash was mistaken last week for a cargo pallet from the plane, prompting criticism.

Flight 447 disappeared and likely broke up in midair in turbulent weather May 31 during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people aboard — all now presumed dead.

The investigation is increasingly focused on whether external instruments on the Airbus A330 may have iced over, confusing speed sensors and leading computers to set the plane’s speed too fast or slow — a potentially deadly mistake.

The French agency investigating the disaster said airspeed instruments on the plane had not been replaced as the maker had recommended, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions about what role that may have played in the crash.

The agency, BEA, said the plane received inconsistent airspeed readings from different instruments as it struggled in a massive thunderstorm.

In Brazil, Air Force Col. Henry Munhoz said he could not immediately provide information on how many more bodies were spotted from the air. Cardoso said late Sunday morning that ships should be able to recover some of them within hours despite rainy weather and poor visibility.

Brazilian investigators are searching a zone of several hundred square miles (square kilometers) roughly 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil’s northern coast.

None of the bodies recovered Sunday had documents with them to indicate their identities, and authorities said they did not know their gender. The first two bodies, found Saturday, were men.

Brazil’s navy found three bodies Sunday morning and French helicopter crew later retrieved a fourth body.

Christophe Prazuck, a spokesman for the French military, said the fourth body was discovered not far from the other three found Sunday. It was not immediately clear if the most recent body was male or female.

Munhoz and Cardoso declined comment on the condition of the recovered bodies, saying the release of that information would be too emotionally painful for relatives.

Authorities also announced that searchers spotted two airplane seats and other debris with Air France’s logo, and they have recovered jet wing fragments and other plane debris.

Munhoz said there is “no more doubt” that the wreckage is from Flight 447.

Hundreds of personal items belonging to the passengers have been recovered, but Munhoz said authorities would not immediately identify them because relatives of the victims were devastated by the announcement Saturday that a laptop computer and briefcase containing a plane ticket had been found.

“We don’t want to cause them more suffering,” Munhoz said.

The bodies and plane wreckage were being transported by ship and should arrive Monday at the Brazilian islands of Fernando de Noronha, where the military has set up a staging post for the search operation. From there, remains and debris will be taken to the northeastern coastal city of Recife for identification.

Air France Flight 447 emitted its last signals roughly 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands.

Brazilian authorities have refused since the search began to release precise coordinates where they are looking, except to say the area lies southwest of the last jet transmission and could have indicated the pilot was trying to turn around in mid-flight and head to Fernando de Noronha.

Munhoz on Sunday would not say how far apart the bodies had been found, and referred comment to French authorities as to whether the locations of the bodies could help determine whether the plane broke up in the air.

The Pentagon has said there are no signs of terrorism. Brazil’s defense minister said the possibility was never considered. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner agreed that there is no evidence supporting a “terrorism theory,” but said “we cannot discard that for now.”

Brazilian officials are focusing on the recovery of victims and plane wreckage, not the plane’s black box data and voice recorders, which could reveal why the jet crashed. Finding the black boxes is the mission of the French government, with help from the United States.

The U.S. Navy is sending two high-tech devices to French ships that will help them locate the boxes, a senior U.S. defense official said Saturday.

The Towed Pinger Locators, which can detect emergency beacons to a depth of 20,000 feet (6,100 meters), are being flown to Brazil on Monday with a U.S. Navy team, said the official, who requested anonymity because the decision has not been announced.

The team will deliver the locators to two French tugs that will use them to listen for transmissions from the black box, the official said.

France has appointed Foreign Ministry official Pierre-Jean Vandoorne to act as ambassador to families of the crash victims, the French prime minister’s office said in a statement Sunday.

Marco Sibaja reported from Recife and Alan Clendenning reported from Sao Paulo. Associated Press writers Emma Vandore and Greg Keller contributed from Paris.

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