First ships arrive in Air France crash zone
Brazilian navy ships search the crash site for clues to find out what brought down the Air France Jet.Fernando De Noronha— The hunt for clues for what brought down an Air France jet over the Atlantic was to get into full swing Thursday with Brazilian navy ships trawling for debris spotted in the crash zone.
Brazil's government has discounted the idea of a mid-air explosion bringing down the plane, which was carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it met its fate early Monday. No distress call was received from the pilots.
Defense Minister Nelson Jobim late Wednesday said a 20-kilometer (12-mile) long fuel slick sighted in the area "means that it is improbable that there was a fire or explosion" because the high-octane jet-fuel would otherwise have been ignited.
But he cautioned that that was "just a hypothesis" and stressed that the mystery of Air France flight AF 477 was far from being solved.
Answers may lie in the plane's black box data and cockpit voice recorders.
But they are likely resting on the rugged sea bottom, at least 3,000 meters underwater, and would be very difficult if not impossible to recover even if the 200-kilometer wide search area were narrowed down, experts said.
"It's equivalent to looking for a needle in a haystack," said Pierre Cochonat, of the French marine research institute Ifremer.
Two Brazilian navy vessels, a patrol boat and a corvette, were in the area, 1,000 kilometers off Brazil's northeast coast, officials said.
By nightfall late Wednesday, though, they had not sighted or recovered any of the items spotted by air force aircraft, which included a plane seat, a life vest, cables, a chunk of fuselage and other plane components.
No bodies have yet been spotted.
Three other Brazilian vessels, including a tanker able to keep the flotilla in the area for weeks, and a French ship with mini-submarines were to arrive over coming days.
A few of the relatives of those on board the Air France Airbus A330 told media they still held out hope their loved ones might have survived. But many others were resigned.
A memorial service was to be held for the 216 passengers and 12 crew in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner attending.
On Wednesday, a similar ceremony was conducted in Notre Dame cathedral with relatives and French President Nicolas Sarkozy hearing a message of condolence from Pope Benedict XVI read out to them.
France, which lost 72 nationals, the biggest group on the plane, is leading the probe into the disaster.
Two French investigators were already at work in Brazil, which lost 58 nationals. The other passengers came from 30 other countries.
If final confirmation comes that all those on board the Air France plane perished, it would be the worst disaster for the French airline in its 70-year history.
It would also be the worst civil aviation accident since 2001, when an American Airlines Airbus A300 crashed in New York killing all 260 people on board.
AFP / Expatica