17 bodies have now been recovered from the debris of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic nearly a week ago, as investigators probe whether a defective speedometer caused the tragedy.
Four bodies were snatched from the waves 1,000km off Brazil’s northeastern coast on Sunday, when search teams battled “unfavourable” weather conditions to recover bodies spotted floating among seats and other plane debris, Brazilian military officials said.
The latest finds followed the recoveries on Saturday and Sunday of bodies from Air France flight AF 447, which came down early on June 1 with 228 people on board. The plane left from Rio de Janeiro heading for Paris on May 31.
A navy frigate was to take the bodies and items recovered on Saturday, including an Air France seat, a briefcase with an Air France ticket and a backpack, to the nearest port of Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian archipelago 400km offshore.
Three more police experts arrived on the island for preliminary identification work to collect basic information, such as the state of the bodies and any clothing, according to air force spokesman Jorge Amaral. Five other police experts arrived on Saturday.
The ship is expected to dock on Monday. From there, the remains are to be flown to the mainland city of Recife, where search operations are being coordinated and a morgue has been set up to identify the bodies through DNA tests.
Munhoz said “some 100 objects” have been spotted in the crash zone, including other seats emblazoned with the Air France logo and oxygen masks. But the priority is the recovery of the bodies.
Black boxes missing
The black boxes from the plane have not yet been found.A French navy frigate on Sunday joined the search effort. Two French military aircraft were already flying with the 12 Brazilian air force planes at work in the area.
Two French submarines, including one that explored the wreck of the Titanic and another, nuclear powered warship, are also on their way to hunt for the devices, which will stop transmitting their location in three weeks.
With clues still being pieced together over the crash, speculation is focusing on its airspeed monitors.
The doomed jet broadcast a series of 24 automatic error messages as its systems shut down one after the other in its final minutes, and French accident investigators say the cockpit was receiving conflicting speed data.
Following the crash, planemaker Airbus warned pilots to review their procedure to cope with this problem.
Air France said on Saturday it has accelerated plans begun on April 27 to replace the monitoring units in its jets after noticing problems with airspeed information on its Airbus A330s and A340s since May last year.
It insisted in a statement that this should not be taken as prejudging the result of the crash investigation.
Speed monitors may have been cause
The device in question is the pitot probe, usually on the leading edge of a wing, which measures the force of the air through which an aircraft passes and thus calculates the speed of the plane.
France’s transport minister Dominique Bussereau said it’s too early for investigators to say what was the most likely cause of the crash, but confirmed that Airbus jets have experienced problems with speed monitors.
“There have been situations on Airbus planes, and perhaps on others, where these probes ice up in a very wet area, a deep depression, an area of storms, and no longer give the correct speed reading,” Bussereau told France’s RTL radio.
“It’s obvious that if the pilots in the cockpit no longer have the correct speed … that can lead to two bad consequences for the survival of the plane,” he explained.
“Too low a speed, which can cause it to stall, or too high a speed, which can lead to the plane ripping up as it approached the speed of sound, as the outer skin is not designed to resist such speed.”