Search ships set sail from Brazil to search for crashed Air France flight data recorders

By Greg Keller, AP
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Search ships on way to crashed Air France area

PARIS — Two search ships have set sail from Brazil to hunt for debris and flight and data recorders from an Air France jetliner that crashed in the Atlantic last year, killing 228 people, a French aviation official said Tuesday.

The U.S. and Norwegian ships left Recife on Monday and are expected to take about two days to reach the search zone, said Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for French accident investigation agency BEA.

The 30-day operation will use sonar-equipped robot submarines and machines dragged underwater to scour the mountainous seabed, perhaps as many as 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) below the surface.

It is the third attempt to find debris and the jet’s data recorders from Air France Flight 447, which crashed June 1, killing everyone aboard.

BEA head Jean-Paul Troadec said last week that there is a good chance of finding the wreckage of the flight that left Rio de Janeiro bound for Paris.

The new search will focus on an area of seabed in the mid-Atlantic only one-tenth of that combed in the two previous attempts.

The smaller search area was the result of a collaborative effort by scientists, including from the U.S.-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, to reconstruct the trajectory of the Airbus 330’s debris and the time the wreckage was found, giving investigators a better idea of where to look.

Officials say locating the flight data and voice recorders is crucial, since the 1,000 pieces of wreckage already recovered have provided no concrete information as to what caused the crash.

The devices contain recordings of cockpit conversations and various data readings from the aircraft.

Without that information, investigators will probably never know why the jet flew straight into huge thunderstorms that other trans-Atlantic flights on similar routes took pains to avoid that day. Based on information gathered so far, investigators believe the plane was intact when it crashed into the ocean.

The latest search employs two ships, one of which will deploy three sonar-equipped robot submarines weighing more than 5 metric tons each to search the seabed. The other will use sonar machines dragged on cables underwater to pore over the 770-square mile (2,000-square kilometer) target area.

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