Search crews find bodies from Air France jet

Search crews have found two bodies believed to be from the missing Air France flight which disappeared over the Atlantic with five Britons on board, Brazil’s air force said today.

Search crews have found two bodies believed to be from the missing Air France flight which disappeared over the Atlantic with five Britons on board, Brazil’s air force said today.

All 228 people on board, including 12 crew, a baby and seven children, are thought to have perished in the world’s worst aviation disaster since 2001.

The discovery comes on the day French investigators said the communications system on flight AF 447, which was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris last Sunday, transmitted 24 error messages ahead of the flight’s disappearance and its autopilot was not working.

Colonel Jorge Amaral, a spokesman for the Brazilian air force, said two male bodies were recovered earlier today from an area where the jet is believed to have crashed.

"It was confirmed with Air France that the ticket number corresponds to a passenger on the flight," he said.

"At 9.10am (1.10pm Irish time), a ship spotted the first body. The body was recovered and it was confirmed to be male."

The second body was spotted and recovered at around 11.30am (3.30pm Irish time).

They were picked up roughly 400 miles (640km) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil’s northern coast, he said.

He added that a suitcase containing a plane ticket for the flight was also found.

Three Irish women – all doctors who had graduated from Trinity College Dublin - were on the plane.

Former Riverdance performer Eithne Walls, 28, from Ballygowan, Co Down, was travelling with her friends Aisling Butler, 26, of Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and Jane Deasy of Dublin, who was also in her 20s.

Earlier, at a briefing in Paris, the investigators said the Airbus A330’s communication system transmitted 24 error messages ahead of the flight’s disappearance.

Paul-Louis Arslanian, the head of the French agency leading the crash investigation, said it was not clear if the autopilot had been switched off by the pilots or had stopped working because it received conflicting airspeed readings.

More than half of the 24 error messages – 14 – were sent within the space of one minute, from 3.10am (Irish time) to 3.11am.

The messages showed “inconsistencies” between measured velocities and indications of systems failures including the autothrust and autopilot, the investigators said.

However, Mr Arslanian warned the error signals were “not designed for investigations” and only gave an indication as to the status of particular systems.

Investigators also said Air France had not acted on a recommendation to change airspeed-detecting instruments on the aircraft before the plane disappeared.

Alain Bouillard, leading the investigation, said Airbus had recommended to all its airline customers that they replace speed-measuring instruments known as Pitot tubes on the A330, the model that crashed, but “they hadn’t yet been replaced” on that aircraft.

However, investigators warned that it was too early to draw conclusions about the role of Pitot tubes in the crash, saying Airbus had made the recommendation for “a number of reasons”.

Meteorologists said the Air France jet entered an unusual storm with 100mph updrafts that acted as a vacuum, sucking water up from the ocean.

The moist air rushed up to the plane’s high altitude, where it quickly froze in minus-40 degree temperatures. The updrafts also would have created dangerous turbulence.

David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International magazine, said: “The fact that the autopilot was not working is not the cause of this accident.”

He said it was “not at all unusual” for the autopilot to cut out and added “it’s not the cause, it’s the symptom” of this accident.

“It’s designed to cut out at any time that it receives conflicting messages, which we know it was,” he said.

“It’s designed to cut out rather than control the airplane in an unsafe way - it’s not an intelligent system, it doesn’t know which of the data are correct.”

He said the pilots would have been alerted with a loud warning system when the autopilot disengaged.

Later, US President Barack Obama said the United States had authorised all of the US government’s resources to help investigate the crash.

France is sending a submarine, the Emeraude, to try to detect signals from the aircraft’s black box recorders, said military spokesman Christophe Prazuck. The submarine is expected to arrive in the area next week.

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