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Officials Begin to Identify Bodies in Air France Crash as Search Goes On

An Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean during a thunderstorm on June 1, 2009, with 228 passengers and crew on board.

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By Marco Sibaja and Alan Clendenning
Associated Press
Friday, June 12, 2009

RECIFE, Brazil, June 11 -- Authorities started to identify bodies Thursday from a jetliner crash, and the names of victims found far apart in the ocean could help determine whether the Air France plane broke up in the air as investigators link them to seat assignments.

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A Brazilian ship picked up three more bodies, raising the number recovered to 44, Brazilian air force Gen. Ramon Cardoso said.

Rainstorms hit parts of the search area, and bodies and debris were dispersed by currents; Cardoso said Brazil's aerial search was hindered by reduced visibility.

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 covers a vast area, 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 . . . are very remote."

Peter Goelz, former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said the evidence uncovered so far pointed to at least a partial midair breakup of the Airbus A330-200.

Goelz said the recovered bodies are among the best evidence investigators now have. Flight 447 had 228 people occupants, 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," he said.

Coroners in Recife began examining 16 bodies Thursday, hoping to identify them through DNA and photos. The other bodies would be flown in Friday from the Brazilian islands of Fernando de Noronha, where search ships took them.

Identification of passengers' injuries also will help investigators.

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 also said recovered bodies and wreckage were crucial to the investigation. "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," he said.

Goelz said damage to the larger pieces of debris fished from the ocean can tell experts where the pieces of the plane broke apart and perhaps why -- by forces in the air or by impact with the sea.

A Brazilian ship unloaded 37 pieces of the plane Thursday for storage at an air base in the northern port city of Natal until French investigators arrive and decide where the remnants should be sent, Brazilian Vice Adm. Edison Lawrence said.

Other pieces are still on ships searching for human remains and debris.


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