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First bodies from Air France disaster to be identified

Recife – Brazilian and French search teams on Tuesday recovered more bodies from the debris of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic last week, killing all 228 people onboard, Brazilian officials said.

A total of 41 bodies have now been hauled up from what one Brazilian navy crewmember said was a "sea of debris" 1,000 kilometers (700 miles) off Brazil’s northeast coast.

The search for the black boxes from the Air France Airbus A330 was to begin on Wednesday, when a French military nuclear submarine was to arrive in the area.

It is hoped those data and voice recorders — which could lie at a depth of up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) — will reveal why the Air France plane came down on 1 June as it was four hours into its flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

A series of data alerts sent automatically by the plane in its final minutes in the air showed it was getting faulty airspeed readings and autopilot was disengaged. Navigation and power systems also failed.

Those messages have focused suspicions on the plane’s exterior airspeed sensors, tubes known as "pitot probes," which plane-maker Airbus and Air France say have been problematic on other Airbus A330s and A340s.

There is speculation the tubes may have iced up during a storm at high altitude, leaving the Air France pilots to guess how fast they were going as they flew into a fierce and disorienting Atlantic storm.

If the pilots were flying too slow the plane could have stalled and fallen, or if they pushed the Airbus too fast it could have ripped the airframe apart, aviation experts say.

Air France has accelerated a program to replace those sensors with a newer type of pitot probe since the disaster. Its pilots are refusing to fly A330s and A340s unless the planes have at least two of the newer probes fitted.

The European agency for air safety insisted Tuesday Airbus models including the A330 were "safe to operate," but added a bulletin had be sent to remind airlines of what to do "in the event of loss of, or unreliable, speed indication."

The disaster of Air France’s flight AF 447 from Rio was the deadliest in the airline’s 75-year history, and the world’s worst aviation accident since 2001.

The head of Brazil’s air traffic control, Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Cardoso, told reporters the bodies recovered from the Atlantic were being brought to dry land.

The first 16 picked up over the weekend arrived early Tuesday at Brazil’s archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. The other 25 were on their way to those islands.

Once photographed and inspected for distinguishing features such as tattoos, piercings or unique physical characteristics, the remains were to be flown to the mainland coastal city of Recife for formal identification.

That process was to involve DNA samples from relatives. Interpol was to assist because of the wide mix of nationalities — 32 in all — on the flight.

Most of those on the plane were French, Brazilian or German.

A statement from the Brazilian air force and navy said the first 16 would arrive in Recife later Tuesday on board a Hercules C-130 plane.

It also said France had asked permission to bring into the search area two tugboats that will be mounted with US military "Pinger Locators," which trail deep in the water and are armed with sensitive equipment designed to detect the black box beacons.

A French research vessel carrying deep-sea mini-subs was also expected to arrive in the area on Thursday. They could be used to recover the black boxes from the sea bed.

AFP / Expatica