Salvaged Rio-Paris crash victims' bodies return to France
The last 104 salvaged bodies and the wreckage from the Air France flight that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 arrived by boat in France on Thursday and were taken to Paris for analysis.
Back from a months-long mission dredging the depths of the ocean, the Ile-de-Sein salvage ship pulled into Bayonne harbour in southwestern France at dawn in the rain and fog.
It carried two containers with wreckage from the Airbus 330 plane and two refrigerated ones with the remains of 104 of the 228 people killed in the crash, recovered from more than 3,000 metres (9,800 feet) under the sea.
Authorities closed off the harbour to onlookers out of respect for the victims' families.
But the operation was delayed for more than four hours after the crane being used for the unloading broke down and the port suffered a power cut.
The BEA aviation authority, which is investigating the crash, said the human remains were to be transferred to a forensic mortuary for examination, and the plane wreckage to a hangar.
Jean-Baptiste Audousset, who represents a victims' relatives group, said on Wednesday that the boat's arrival could prove traumatic.
Some relatives will want to receive bodies that are not in the cargo, while others would have preferred for their loved ones to have remained on the ocean floor.
After a short ceremony, a truck took the two containers with bodies in to Paris under police escort from eight motorcycles and six cars.
Police authorities said the Medical-Legal Institute in Paris would carry out dental and DNA tests to establish victims' identities.
Once identities are confirmed, the remains will be handed over to families for burial, police said in a statement.
"It will take at least a good week or two before being able to adduce anything," police said. "The aim is to hand over the bodies to the families as quickly as possible."
Rescue workers recovered 50 bodies in the days immediately after the crash. More than 70 could not be retrieved in the two years of searching.
The plane crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009. It took investigators until last month to salvage the black-box flight recorders from the wreck on the ocean bed.
According to information from the flight data recorders, released earlier by the BEA, the pilots saw conflicting speeds on their instruments as the plane stalled and fell into the sea.
The BEA is due to deliver a report in July on the causes of the crash.
© 2011 AFP