Recife, Brazil / Paris: Brazilian search crews on Saturday retrieved the first bodies from a crashed Air France flight in the Atlantic, and investigators said faulty speed readings had been found on the same type of jets.
Navy ships found the bodies of two men and debris including a blue seat with a serial number matching Air France Flight 447, a rucksack containing a vaccination card, and a briefcase with an Air France ticket inside, rescue officials said.
“This morning at 8.14 am, we confirmed the rescue from the water of pieces and bodies that belonged to the Air France flight,” air force spokesman Jorge Amaral told reporters in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife.
Brazilian air force planes and navy ships have been scouring a swathe of the Atlantic about 1,100 km northeast of Brazil’s coast since the Airbus A330-200 plane disappeared on Monday, killing all 228 people on board.
The crash of the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris was the world’s deadliest air disaster since 2001 and the worst in Air France’s 75-year history.
Rescuers, who said that only family members will be informed of the identity of the corpses, believe many bodies could have sunk or been devoured by sharks.
Searchers previously had retrieved debris from the ocean that turned out to be unrelated to the crash.
French investigators trying to establish the cause of the crash said on Saturday that Airbus had detected faulty speed readings on its A330 jets before last week and had recommended that clients replace a sensor.
Air France changing sensors
Air France later issued a statement saying it had begun changing airspeed sensors on Airbus long-haul aircraft due to icing fears five weeks before the crash, but only after failing to agree on a fix with Airbus.
Investigators are considering the possibility that the speed sensors on Flight 447 may have iced up, resulting in faulty readings that caused the pilots to set the plane at a dangerous speed as it passed thunderstorms.
But the head of France’s air accident agency (BEA) said in a news conference in France that it was too soon to say if problems with the pressure-based speed sensors were in any way responsible for the disaster.
“Some of the sensors (on the A330) were earmarked to be changed ... but that does not mean that without these replacement parts, the (Air France) plane would have been defective,” BEA chief Paul-Louis Arslanian said.
Airbus confirmed it issued a bulletin asking the plane’s 50 or so airline operators to consider changing the speed sensors, known as Pitot tubes, but it said it was an optional measure to improve performance and not related to safety.
In its statement on Saturday, Air France said it began noticing airspeed problems from icing on both A330 and A340 planes in May 2008 and had requested a solution from Airbus.
According to Air France, Airbus proposed testing different sensors despite earlier doubting that they would resolve the problem, but the airline declined to wait and started changing them from April 27. Airbus was not immediately available to comment.
Flurry of messages
The doomed Air France plane sent 24 automated messages in a span of four minutes indicating a series of system failures before it vanished, Arslanian said.
In the middle of this stream of data was one message showing inconsistent speed readings from the A330’s sensors, investigators said.
The messages also showed that the autopilot was off, though it was impossible to say whether it had disengaged itself, as it is designed to do when it receives suspect data, or whether the pilot had decided to turn it off, Arslanian said.
Airbus issued a reminder on Thursday that pilots should follow standard procedures — to maintain flight speed and angle — if they thought their speed indicators were faulty.
Meteorological experts said the jet crossed a storm zone but that the weather did not seem to pose a particular threat.
Investigators have said they are not optimistic that they will be able to locate the plane’s flight recorders, which could provide vital information about the cause of the crash.
The search zone is a relatively uncharted patch of ocean that has deep ravines and a fine, muddy sediment.
France is sending a nuclear-powered submarine to try to locate the two flight recorders, which could be at a depth of anywhere between 2,835 and 13,120 feet (864 and 4,000 meters), said Laurent Kerleguer, the French navy’s deputy head of hydrography.