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Brazil Finds More Wreckage from Jetliner Crash

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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Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 3, 2009; 3:26 PM

Brazil today reported finding more wreckage from an Air France jetliner that went down in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday with 228 people on board, as naval vessels converged on the area in hopes of finding clues to what caused the worst crash in the airline's history.

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The Brazilian air force said in a statement that one of its Embraer R-99 reconnaissance planes found four more fields of floating debris early this morning about 55 miles south of wreckage discovered yesterday. It said the debris consisted of various objects dispersed over a three-mile radius, including one piece that was nearly 23 feet in diameter and 10 smaller ones, some of them metallic. It also said the search plane spotted a fuel slick that stretched for 12 miles. The statement did not identify the objects that were sighted from the plane, which is equipped with radar and special sensors.

A total of 11 aircraft were involved in the search for debris, including three Brazilian air force C-130s, a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane and a French Falcon 50. The Orion, fitted with radar and sonar systems designed to track submarines, can fly low over the ocean for 12 hours at a time.

Meanwhile, the first Brazilian navy ship was due to arrive on the scene today, and France was sending vessels including an oceanographic ship that can deploy unmanned mini-submarines capable of diving nearly 20,000 feet. The ship is expected to reach the area sometime next week.

The search planes have been scouring a zone about 400 miles northeast of Brazil's Fernando do Noronha archipelago, which lies about 220 miles off the Brazilian coast.

For French air safety investigators, the race is on to recover the downed plane's "black box" digital data and cockpit voice recorders. The two devices have underwater locator beacons, or pingers, that activate when the boxes get wet. They will typically generate their signal for about 30 days after activation. Investigators generally view information on the recorders as vital to determining causes of aviation accidents.

The plane's wreckage may be 6,600 to 9,800 feet deep in the Atlantic, French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said today.

"We have never recovered black boxes that deep before," he said in a French radio interview, adding that "the sea currents are powerful that far down."

Moreover, weather at the crash site may impede the operation. Forecasts indicate that recovery crews may have to battle heavy thunderstorms and rough seas.

The black boxes on the downed Airbus A330 can transmit their signals from depths of 14,000 to 15,000 feet. The pinger transmits an acoustical signal that can be detected with underwater microphones.

Aviation safety experts say investigators have generally had success locating black boxes in both shallow and deep waters.

"They are trying to be found," said William R. Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation. "They navies involved have sophisticated equipment designed to find submarines that are tying to hide. I think there is a good possibility that they will be able to locate these boxes."


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