Recovery: Air France Search Yields 3 More Bodies

Posted by Cassie Nist - email

RECIFE, Brazil (CNN) -- Three more bodies have been found from the crash of an Air France plane off the coast of Brazil nearly a week ago, along with hundreds of other items, Brazilian officials said Sunday.

More bodies could be seen and could be recovered within hours, they added.

The bodies of two males were found Saturday. But Brazilian air force and navy officials said it was not possible to identify the sex of the latest three bodies. Asked their condition, the officials declined to describe them, citing good taste and the victims' families.

The bodies were found floating in water that was between 6,000 and 8,000 meters deep (19,685 to 26,247 feet).

All the bodies and items are confirmed as being from Air France 447, which vanished over the Atlantic early Monday en route to Paris, France, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with 228 passengers and crew aboard.

The items recovered include parts of the plane's wing section and at least two seats from the plane, officials said, as well as many more items of luggage. They refused to give details on the luggage found, saying they do not want victims' family members to hear about a loved one's item through the media.

The area where the bodies and crash debris are being found is about 700 miles (more than 1,100km) from the Brazilian coast.

Brazilian authorities said the investigation into the cause of the crash would be handled by Air France and by French authorities. Once everything is brought to the mainland, the French investigators will examine the items.

Sunday's weather forecast called for reduced visibility and storms, which officials said would hamper recovery efforts. However, the efforts continue around the clock. Fourteen aircraft -- 12 Brazilian and two French -- were participating, along with five Brazilian ships and one French frigate.

The Brazilian officials said their first priority is to recover as many bodies as possible, in order to return them to the victims' families. They also want to recover luggage and aircraft pieces to aid in the crash probe.

The discovery of the bodies Saturday provided hope to anxious relatives awaiting news.

"When I heard about this accident, they told us there were no bodies, no pieces of the plane," Nelson Faria Marinho, the father of a missing passenger, told Globo News television in Rio de Janeiro. "Now, it's all surfacing. We have pieces of the airplane. We have bodies. This renews my hope. As a father, I can't think of the worst. I couldn't."

Also found Saturday were a backpack and a leather briefcase containing an airplane ticket with a reservation code, which Air France verified belonged to a passenger on the jet, another air force spokesman, Jorge Amaral, told CNN.

The Brazilian navy and air force officials said the backpack contained a laptop, and an oxygen mask also was discovered.

The search area covers 200,000 square km (77,220 square miles) -- an area nearly as big as the country of Romania. It is not clear where the plane crashed, since ocean currents likely caused the bodies and debris to drift in the six days since the crash.

Recovery of bodies and debris is significant not only for families, but for crash investigators, said Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Even if they don't find anything else they can get some very important clues from the pieces that they do find and from the human remains," Schiavo told CNN Saturday.

She said investigators would be able to discern if there was an explosion from possible residue on the bodies or other items. Or, if water is found in the lungs of victims, investigators would know the plane went down intact, she said.

Investigators in Paris said Saturday that the Air France flight sent out 24 automated error messages lasting about four minutes before it crashed.

The error messages suggest the plane may have been flying too fast or too slow through severe thunderstorms it encountered before the crash, officials said.

Schiavo, the former inspector general, said the four minutes of automated signals sent from the plane "was a very long time."

Investigators also reported that the airline had failed to replace a part, as recommended by the manufacturer, Airbus.

Airbus had advised airlines to update equipment that monitors speed, known as Pitot tubes. The recommendation was a result of technological developments and improvements, an Airbus spokesman told CNN's Richard Quest. The change was not mandatory, and the spokesman would not comment on Air France's failure to follow the advice.

Investigators said a lot of work remains to be done to determine why the plane crashed. Two key pieces of evidence -- the flight data and cockpit voice recorders -- remain missing, and could lie beneath thousands of meters of water.

In Washington, a U.S. defense official told CNN that the U.S. Navy will contribute two high-tech acoustic devices to listen for emergency beacons still operating in deep water. The "towed pinger locators" help search for emergency beacons on downed aircraft to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet, and will be placed aboard two French tugs that are part of the search efforts, the official said.

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