15 more bodies found in Air France crash
RECIFE, Brazil (AP) – Search ships methodically worked through debris from a doomed Air France jet Sunday, recovering 15 more bodies near the spot where the Airbus A330 is believed to have gone down a week ago.
Two bodies were recovered Saturday, and Brazilian and French ships picked up the others on Sunday after pilots participating in a grid search reported additional sightings. The bodies have been found in an area about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from where the jet sent out messages signaling electrical failures and loss of cabin pressure.
“We’re navigating through a sea of debris,” Brazilian Navy Capt. Giucemar Tabosa Cardoso said.
Brazil’s military was not releasing detailed information about bodies or debris that have been spotted from the air but not taken aboard ships, after it was criticized last week for mistakenly identifying sea trash as a cargo pallet from the plane.
Flight 447 disappeared and likely broke up in midair in turbulent weather May 31 during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people aboard – all now presumed dead.
The investigation is increasingly focused on whether external instruments on the Airbus A330 may have iced over, confusing speed sensors and leading computers to set the plane’s speed too fast or slow – a potentially deadly mistake.
The French agency investigating the disaster said airspeed instruments on the plane had not been replaced as the maker had recommended, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions about what role that may have played in the crash.
The agency, BEA, said the plane received inconsistent airspeed readings from different instruments as it struggled in a massive thunderstorm.
France is leading the investigation into the cause and will try to recover the plane’s black box data and voice recorders, which could reveal why the jet crashed. Brazilian officials are focusing solely on the recovery of victims and plane wreckage.
In Brazil, Air Force Col. Henry Munhoz said nine bodies have been recovered by Brazilian authorities: four men, four women and one that was impossible to identify by gender. He said he did not have information about the genders of the eight bodies recovered by French military helicopters that were transferred to a French ship.
The search is focusing on several hundred square miles (square kilometers) roughly 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil’s northern coast – where Air France Flight 447 emitted its last signals.
Munhoz and Cardoso declined comment on the condition of the recovered bodies, saying that information would be too emotionally painful for relatives.
Authorities also announced that searchers spotted two airplane seats, debris with Air France’s logo, and recovered dozens of structural components from the plane. They had already recovered jet wing fragments.
Munhoz said there is “no more doubt” that the wreckage is from Flight 447.
Hundreds of personal items belonging to the passengers have been recovered, but Munhoz said authorities would not immediately identify them. Relatives of the victims were devastated by an announcement Saturday that a laptop computer and briefcase containing a plane ticket had been found.
“We don’t want to cause them more suffering,” Munhoz said.
The bodies and plane wreckage were being transported by Brazilian and French ships and should arrive Tuesday at the Fernando de Noronha islands, where the military has set up a staging post for the search operation. From there, remains and debris will be taken to the northeastern coastal city of Recife for identification.
Munhoz would not say Sunday how far apart the bodies had been found. He referred questions to French authorities on whether the locations of the bodies could help determine whether the plane broke up in the air.
Meanwhile, friends and family remembered geologist Michael Prince Harris and his wife, Anne Debaillon Harris – the only U.S. citizens on the plane – in a memorial service Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana.
The couple had lived in Lafayette before moving to Houston and then Brazil.
The Pentagon has said there are no signs of terrorism. Brazil’s defense minister said the possibility was never considered. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner agreed that there is no evidence supporting a “terrorism theory,” but said “we cannot discard that for now.”
The U.S. Navy is sending two high-tech devices to French ships that will help them locate the black boxes, Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said Sunday.
The Towed Pinger Locators, which can detect emergency beacons to a depth of 20,000 feet (6,100 meters), are being flown to Brazil on Monday with a U.S. Navy team.
The team will deliver the locators to two French tugs that will use them to listen for transmissions from the black box.
France has appointed Foreign Ministry official Pierre-Jean Vandoorne to act as ambassador to families of the crash victims, the French prime minister’s office said in a statement Sunday.