The ocean location of the Air France plane crash victims could provide answers to whether the doomed jet broke up in the air, experts said.
A Brazilian ship picked up three more bodies, raising the number recovered to 44, Brazilian Air Force general Ramon Cardoso said.
But the search was hindered by rainstorms and bodies and debris were dispersed by currents, Gen Cardoso said.
The Atlantic currents that had been taking bodies and debris toward the West African nation of Senegal were reversing and could bring them closer to Brazilian and French searchers, but the recovery effort covered a vast area, Gen Cardoso said.
“It is becoming more and more difficult to find and recover bodies,” he said 11 days after the May 31 crash hundreds of miles off Brazil’s coast. “And the chances of recovering the bodies of all the passengers of the Air France flight are very remote.”
Peter Goelz, former managing director of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said the evidence uncovered so far pointed to at least a partial mid-air break up of the Airbus A330.
He said the bodies found were among the best evidence investigators had. Flight 447 was packed with 228 people, including three Irish, and the passengers were probably in their assigned seats as the jet flew into heavy storms, he said.
“If the victims found in one part of the ocean mostly came from one part of the plane, and the victims in the other area came from another part of the plane, that is really telling you something,” Mr Goelz said.
Coroners in Brazil’s north-eastern coastal city of Recife began examining 16 bodies yesterday, hoping to identify them through DNA and photos.
The other bodies will be flown in today from the Brazilian islands of Fernando de Noronha, where they were taken by search ships.
Two Irish detectives have been despatched to Brazil to assist in the identification efforts.
Identification of injuries suffered by passengers will also help investigators.
Mr Goelz noted that the pattern of injuries found on passengers of TWA Flight 800 – which went down in 1996 off New York’s Long Island – helped investigators confirm that the nose broke off and fire blew back from the fuel tank.
Air France chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said: “We will know much more, I think, after the autopsies allow us to better understand the technical causes of death and when the debris have been examined by experts.”
Mr Goelz said damage to the larger pieces of debris fished from the ocean could tell experts where the pieces of the plane broke apart and perhaps why – by forces in air or by impact with the sea.
A Brazilian ship unloaded 37 pieces of the plane yesterday for storage at an air base in the northern port city of Natal until French investigators arrive and decide where they should be sent.
Other pieces are still aboard ships searching for human remains and debris.
The first bodies found on Saturday, six days after the crash, were recovered about 53 miles from bodies discovered on Tuesday, Brazil’s military said.
Investigators will calculate how far currents averaging about 5mph carried the bodies before they were picked up, said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
“Finding those bodies that far away or that separate from the debris field is a very important clue and could indicate a mid-air break up or at least that the cabin was opened up,” he said.
Yet more information could come from the plane’s flight recorders. Sonar from the French nuclear submarine Emeraude are now ranging across 13 square miles of ocean bottom a day searching for them.
US military locating equipment capable of picking up signals 20,000 feet deep will arrive at the scene within days.