SAO PAULO, Brazil — The rear section of an Air France jet that crashed off Brazil’s coast in 2009 remains relatively intact on the ocean floor, raising hopes the plane’s “black boxes” may still be attached to the wreckage, family of some victims said Tuesday after being briefed by officials.
Experts have said that without retrieving the voice and data recorders, located at the rear of the jetliner, there would be almost no chance of determing what caused the crash that killed all 228 people aboard. It was the worst disaster in Air France’s history.
Nelson Marinho, who heads the Brazilian victims’ family association, said French investigators told relatives during a meeting in Paris on Monday that the “tail section had been found and that it was relatively intact so the black boxes are possibly still attached to it.”
“I am 99 per cent certain the black boxes will be recovered,” Marinho said.
But Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for the French accident investigation agency BEA, urged caution about the news coming from the relatives’ meeting with French Transportation Minister Thierry Mariani and BEA chief Jean-Paul Troadec.
“We are working intensely under a very short time span to have a maximum amount of information to able to find the black boxes,” said Del Bono. “But we don’t know where they are right now — we have to find them at the site.”
Flight 447, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, slammed into the Atlantic northeast of Brazil on June 1, 2009, after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm.
Automatic messages sent by the Airbus 330’s computers showed it was receiving false air speed readings from sensors known as pitot tubes. Investigators have said the crash was likely caused by a series of problems, and not just sensor error.
Maarten Van Sluys, another official with the Brazilian victims’ family association who attended the meeting in Paris, confirmed to The Associated Press that officials said the rear of the jet was found mostly intact.
While Van Sluys came away from the meeting with optimism that officials would find the black boxes, he expressed concern about their condition after sitting in corrosive saltwater for two years under immense pressure at the ocean floor.
“They made it clear that they could not guarantee that the content of the black boxes would be able to be retrieved,” he said.
Air France spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand said the airline would not make any comment about the chances of finding the recorders, saying its up to the BEA to do so.
Clay McConnell, a U.S.-based spokesman for Airbus, said: “We are anxious for the data from the black boxes to be recovered, because the story will be told as to exactly what happened. The industry needs to know and the families need to know.”
Finding the cause of the crash took on new importance last month when a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and Airbus.
Under French law, preliminary charges mean the investigating magistrate has sufficient reason to suspect wrongdoing. The step allows the magistrate to continue investigating before determining whether to send the case to trial.
Air France and Airbus financed the estimated $12.5 million cost of the fourth search for jetliner, announcing on April 3 that the wreckage field had been found. About $28 million was spent on the three previous searches.
The French Transportation Ministry said Tuesday that the ship Ile de Sein belonging to French company Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks would leave April 21 from Cape Verde to begin retrieving bits of the wreckage. The focus will be on trying to bring up the black boxes with underwater robots if they are found.
Marinho said that if the black boxes are recovered, he and other victims family members want the data analyzed in a “neutral” country, preferably the United States.
“Air France is owned by the French government, which won’t want to see information that could hurt it come out,” he said.
Associated Press writers Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.