Bodies seen in wreckage of Air France Atlantic crash jet
Salvage workers will soon start pulling up from the ocean floor the bodies of passengers and wreckage found almost two years after an Air France jet fell into the Atlantic, officials said Monday.
The discovery of the wreckage has raised hopes that the plane's black box flight recorders will be located and that investigators will finally be able to find out what caused the mysterious crash that took 228 lives.
Investigators announced on Sunday that a fourth and final attempt to find the remains of the Airbus A330 that crashed in June 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris had been successful and promised to release photographs.
French Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said that some bodies had been seen in the remains of the cabin, photographed by three Remus autonomous submarines.
"There are still some bodies in the section that has been found," Kosciuscko-Morizet told France Inter radio on Monday, adding that "some identifications" could be possible.
"Everything did not explode... there's a part of the cabin and in this part of the cabin, there are bodies," she said. "This is a large part of the plane, in one piece."
She said later that salvage operations could begin within a month to recover the bodies and the wreckage.
Investigators now hope to find the of the twin-engine plane's black box flight data recorders, said the head of France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) Jean-Paul Troadec.
"The favourable news is that the debris area is relatively concentrated. And this gives us hope of finding the black boxes," he said, adding that the parts of the wreckage found consisted of "engines and certain elements of the wings".
Previous searches recovered a limited amount of wreckage and some 50 bodies.
The new search was launched on March 25 with the help of the Alucia, an exploration vessel of the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
A source close to the investigation said the wreckage had been found "near the (plane's) last known position, in a limited area a few hundred metres (yards) to the west of this position.
"The fact that the debris is concentrated in a relatively small area favours the hypothesis that the plane did not break up in flight. The plane was intact when it hit the sea," the source said.
The official cause remains undetermined, but it has been partly blamed on malfunctioning speed sensors used by Airbus, with Air France accused of not responding quickly enough to reports that they might be faulty.
Investigators hope that bringing the wreckage to the surface will help explain how the plane broke up and what caused it to crash.
"Studying the breaks, how the pieces are bent, will show whether the plane hit the water flat, on its side, etc. It will perhaps give some indication of the speed of the impact," the source said.
But investigators, Airbus and relatives of the dead remain cautious, stressing that without the black boxes the enigma of the plane's last moments may never be resolved.
"We do hope that this discovery will lead to the retrieval and the reading of the two recorders because these data are essential for the understanding of this accident," said Airbus boss Tom Enders.
Air France and Airbus -- who are being probed for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, the deadliest in the carrier's history -- are paying the estimated $12.7 million cost of the search.
The latest search included a much larger area of a 46-mile (75-kilometre) radius around the last known position of Flight 447.
A third search of the ocean floor to try to locate the black boxes had ended in failure last May.
© 2011 AFP