Brazilian Navy recovers 24 air crash victims

TWO Brazilian helicopters took off from the islands of Fernando de Noronha to pick up 16 bodies of Air France crash victims, as airline chiefs at a conference insisted the Airbus A330 was one of the safest planes in the world to fly.

The bodies were being brought in by a Brazilian navy ship, then were being flown by helicopter to Fernando de Noronha and by plane to Recife, where experts will try to identify them.

Emirates Airlines president Tim Clark said the company has a fleet of 29 A330-200 planes that have been flying since 1998.

“It is a very robust airplane. It has been flying for many years, clocking hundreds of millions of hours and there is absolutely no reason why there should be any question over this plane. It is one of the best flying today,” he said.

Brazil’s air force revealed that search crews had recovered the vertical stabiliser from the tail section of Flight 447 – which could provide key clues as to why the airliner with 228 people on board went down in the Atlantic and where best to search for the black boxes.

Eight more bodies also were found, bringing the total recovered to 24, Air Force Col Henry Munhoz said. The plane disappeared during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31 amid strong thunderstorms.

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said if experts can determine the identity of a body and know where that person was sitting, their injuries could offer clues into the crash.

William Waldock, who teaches air crash investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said the damage he saw looks like a lateral fracture.

“That would reinforce the idea that the plane broke up in flight,” he said. “If it hits intact, everything shatters in tiny pieces.”

Crash theories include the possibility that external speed monitors – called Pitot tubes – iced over and gave dangerously false readings to cockpit computers in a thunderstorm.

The L-shaped metal Pitot tubes jut from the wing or fuselage of a plane, and are heated to prevent icing. The pressure of air entering the tubes lets sensors measure the speed and angle of flight. A malfunctioning Pitot tube could cause an airspeed sensor to fail, and lead the computer controlling the plane to accelerate or decelerate in a potentially dangerous fashion.

Eric Derivry, a spokesman for the SNPL union, the main union for Air France pilots, said all jets taking off on Tuesday would be equipped with two of the new Pitot sensors.

A memo sent to Air France pilots by the Alter union Monday and obtained by The Associated Press urges them to refuse to fly unless at least two of the three Pitot sensors on each planes have been replaced.

An official with the Alter union, said there is a “strong presumption” among its pilot members that a Pitot problem precipitated the crash. The memo says the airline should have grounded all A330 and A340 jets pending the replacement, and warns of a “real risk of loss of control” due to Pitot problems.

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