Air France crash mystery deepens

June 5, 2009 12:00 am

, FERNANDO DE NORONHA, Jun 5 – The mystery surrounding the crash of an Air France plane off the coast of Brazil deepened after Brazilian officials said items they had pulled from the sea were not in fact debris from the downed Airbus.

The search by ships for wreckage from Air France flight AF 477, which came down early Monday as it was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people on board, continued in a zone where confirmed items from the plane had been spotted earlier in the week.

"Up to now, no material from the plane has been recovered," Brigadier Ramon Cardoso, director of Brazilian air traffic control, told reporters in the northeastern city of Recife late Thursday.

That contradicted a statement Cardoso made earlier Thursday when he said a pallet and two buoys plucked from the Atlantic by navy crews were the first pieces of the Air France crash.

In fact, Cardoso admitted later, they were nothing more than sea "trash," probably from a ship, as was a big oil patch originally described as a fuel slick from the French jet.

Several Brazilian navy vessels are looking for debris from the plane, including a seat and a big chunk of what appeared to be fuselage, sighted by air force aircraft on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Defense Minister Nelson Jobim has said there was "no doubt" that the debris spotted from the air came from flight AF 477, and that they marked the area close to where the plane hit the ocean.

The French government, which is in charge of the probe into the crash, has sent investigators to Brazil to inspect any debris that could be recovered from the zone, around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off-shore, and take them back to France.

Speculation over what caused the accident has ranged from a massive, lightning-packed storm in the area at the time, to turbulence, to pilot error or a combination of factors.

No mayday call was received from the plane, just a series of data transmissions signaling it had lost power and then had either broken up or gone into a fatal dive.

Memorial services were held Wednesday in Paris and Thursday in Rio for those on board the plane, though no bodies have been spotted at sea.

Many relatives of the passengers attended, but others declined, refusing to give up hope that somehow, despite the evidence, their loved ones had survived.

Brazil’s air force late Thursday invited the Brazilian relatives to its center of operations in the northeastern city of Recife to observer developments.

Some of the relatives have said they wanted to go to Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian archipelago 400 kilometers (250 miles) into the Atlantic that is serving as a forward base for the search and initial collection point for any debris or bodies that might be recovered.

"There is no need to go to Fernando de Noronha because all the same information is available in Recife," a spokesman for the air force-run air control center said. The city has prepared a morgue and debris inspection area for anything found.

Jobim said Wednesday that "if necessary, the air force may possibly organize an overflight of the search zone" for the families.


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