Robots locate bodies and debris from Air France crash

UNDERSEA robots have located bodies, motors and a “large part” of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, in which three young Irish women died.

However, black box flight recorders haven’t yet been found, French officials said.

Victims’ families cautiously welcomed the surprise announcement that search teams have located pieces of the plane, after nearly two years of fruitless efforts to determine what caused it to crash.

Investigators have said without the recorders, the cause may never be determined.

All 228 people aboard the plane were killed when the flight, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, slammed into the ocean on June 1, 2009, after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm.

The body of Dr Jane Deasy, aged 27, from Rathgar in Dublin, was recovered during the initial search operation.

Dr Aisling Butler, 26, of Roscrea, Co Tipperary and Dr Eithne Walls, 28, from Ballygowan, Co Down, died in the crash also but their remains were never recovered. The three women had been returning from a holiday in Brazil when the aircraft went missing.

The French air accident investigation agency BEA said on Sunday that a team aboard the expedition ship Alucia using underwater robots “has located pieces of an aircraft ... in the past 24 hours”.

French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said “bodies have been located”. Speaking on France- Info radio, he wouldn’t elaborate, saying further information would be released to the families alone.

Fifty bodies were found during the first phase of the search, along with more than 600 pieces of the plane scattered on the sea. No bodies or debris have been found since.

“This fourth search campaign allowed us to locate motors, landing gear, wing parts, which is a very positive sign because at last we will be able, perhaps, to find out the truth,” Mariani said.

BEA spokeswoman Martine Del Bono said the black boxes have not been located: “I hope to be able to announce that (discovery) in the coming weeks,” she said.

The debris was found at remarkable depths, of between 3,800 and 4,000 meters, Del Bono said. It is far from clear whether the flight recorders, even if they are found, would still be intact after nearly two years under such conditions.

“In the past, we found the tail, scattered pieces, but this time we have found a large part of the plane, surrounded by debris,” said French government minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who oversees environmental and transport issues, on France-Inter radio.

“Everything didn’t explode. There was a part of the cabin, and in this cabin, there are bodies.”

She said there is a possibility that the bodies could be identified.

Jean-Baptiste Audosset, who lost his partner in the crash, said the announcement offers “at last a bit of hope.” He said, however, that families remain cautious after an earlier announcement that parts of the plane had been located turned out to be untrue.

Three previous search efforts proved futile in attempts to shed light on the cause of the crash.

Finding the cause took on new importance last month when a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and the plane’s manufacturer, Airbus.

Experts say without the flight data and voice recorders, authorities will not likely determine what was at fault.

Air France and Airbus are financing the estimated €9 million cost of the new, fourth search effort that started last month. About €20m has already been spent on the three previous searches for the jet’s wreckage.

The search is being targeted in an area of about 3,900 square miles, several hundred miles off Brazil’s northeastern coast.

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