Wreckage, victims of Air France Flight 447 found

Friday, April 8, 2011

File photo of the Airbus A330-200 (F-GZCP) involved in the accident
Image: Pawel Kierzkowski.

After an exhaustive two year, 20 million euro ($28 million) search, the final resting spot of Air France Flight 447 has been located. The location of the wreckage is six miles north of the plane's last reported position off the coast of Brazil at a depth of 3,800 and 4,000 meters (2,070 to 2,190 fathoms or 12,467 feet and 13,123 feet).

The wreckage of the Airbus A330-200, was found Sunday by a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, using a Remus robotic submarine and its side-scan sonar. After the wreckage was found, another Remus robot submarine with cameras was sent down to the site, where it filmed bodies in the wreckage.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France's Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Sea, confirmed to reporters: "Bodies were found. They will be recovered and identified."

"We weren’t prepared for that. We are now confronted with another trauma," Robert Soulas, vice president of Entraide et Solidarité AF447, a support group for families of victims of the crash, said. Soulas lost his daughter and son-in-law, who were on board the flight when it crashed. "For me, personally I would like to leave the bodies of my children, my two children, on the seabed."

Bodies were found. They will be recovered and identified.

—Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, French transport minister

The remains of the plane, which were concentrated in a 600 metres by 200 metres (1,968 feet by 656 feet) area, appear to be relatively intact which leads investigators to believe that the plane hit the water intact and did not explode mid-air. Around 50 bodies of the 228 passengers and crew on board and parts of the plane were found shortly after the crash in 2009.

According to Jean-Paul Troadec, the head of France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA), the accident investigation body for aircraft overseeing the operation and investigation, the wreckage and bodies will be bought to surface and then sent to France for investigation. The salvage operation, which will cost around 5 million euros ($7.1 million) according to estimates, will be financed by the French government. Three salvage companies who are bidding to recover the wreck have until afternoon on Thursday to submit proposals. The operation should take between three weeks to a month.

On raising the remains of the plane Troadec said: "We want to know what happened in this accident, most particularly so it never happens again." Some family members agreed saying such as Michael Gaignard, whose sister was on board the plane said, "We want to know what happened in that plane." An attorney for several families said some had yet to come to terms with loss of loved ones, saying "There's been no burial, no goodbye ... just lots and lots of suffering."

Soulas of Entraide et Solidarité AF447 disagreed. "There's a very traumatic side to this and it causes problems of identification. We don't know what state they are in." He added, "And it risks causing a dispute between families who want to leave the bodies at the bottom of the Atlantic and those who want them brought to the surface."

For me, personally I would like to leave the bodies of my children, my two children, on the seabed.

—Robert Soulas, VP of Entraide et Solidarité AF447

The vertical stabilizer of the Airbus being recovered in June 2009.
Image: Agência Brasil.

However, despite the discovery of the wreckage, the plane's two flight recorders, the flight data recorder (FDR) and the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) have yet to be found at the crash site.

Alain Bouillard, who is in charge of BEA's recovery effort said, "It's still a jigsaw puzzle. We do not know where the recorders might be."

There are concerns that the two-year length the recorders have been submerged in seawater along with enormous pressure located at the depth of the wreck, that the data on the recorders might be unreadable. Bouillard said it is possible the recorders were damaged, but had "great confidence" in their robustness.

Without the recovery of the recorders, investigators may be unable to determine the cause of the crash. The leading theory at the moment is that the crew received incorrect air speed readings from the aircraft's pitot tubes, devices which measure how fast the aircraft is travelling. Experts say the tubes may have become iced over, causing the crash.

The plane's Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) sent out 24 messages over a four-minute long period stating numerous problems and warnings, including incorrect air speed warnings occurring aboard the aircraft, just prior to it going down.