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Officials to ID first bodies from Air France crash

Brazilian and French officials were preparing Tuesday to identify the first 16 bodies recovered from an area in the Atlantic where an Air France jet crashed over a week ago killing all 228 people aboard.

world Updated: Jun 09, 2009 10:25 IST

Brazilian and French officials were preparing Tuesday to identify the first 16 bodies recovered from an area in the Atlantic where an Air France jet crashed over a week ago killing all 228 people aboard.

A Brazilian navy ship was to bring the bodies close to Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha archipelago, where they were to be transferred by helicopter early Tuesday.

From there, they were to be flown by plane to Recife, a mainland coastal city where a morgue had been set up to identify the remains using DNA samples from relatives and dental records.

Brazilian officials said late Monday they had recovered 24 bodies since Saturday from the crash zone 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) off Brazil’s northeast coast.

French officials later said at least another five bodies were on a French frigate helping the Brazilian navy recovery operation, bringing the total number of bodies so far recovered to 29.

A Brazilian navy ship recovered the tail fin of the Air France Airbus A330 on Monday and was bringing it to shore. That was seen as the most important piece yet recovered from the plane, which went down June 1 on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. No distress call was received from the pilots.

The plane’s black boxes were mounted in the tail section, and the fin’s location could narrow the underwater search for those devices by a French submarine expected to arrive in the zone on Wednesday.

The clock is ticking for finding the devices, believed to lie on the sea floor at a depth of up to 6,000 meters (19,700 feet). Their homing beacons will cease to operate in three weeks.

The US Navy said the first of two towable pinger locators would arrive Wednesday to try to locate the data and voice recorders.

A French nuclear submarine was due the same day to also conduct underwater sweeps for the beacons.

If the black boxes are found, a French research sub -- the same one that has explored the wreck of the Titanic -- will be deployed to recover them. That small sub, the Nautile, is also expected to arrive within days.

The disaster is the worst aviation accident since 2001, and unprecedented in Air France’s 75-year history.

Early suspicions are focusing on the Airbus A330’s airspeed sensors, which appear to have malfunctioned in the minutes before the catastrophe according to some of the 24 automatic data warnings sent by the plane.

Investigators are looking at whether the sensors, known as pitots, could have iced over, possibly leading the Air France pilots to fly into a storm in the zone that day without knowing their airspeed.

France’s transport minister Dominique Bussereau has said that scenario could have led the pilots to set the plane at “too low a speed, which can cause it to stall, or too high a speed, which can lead to the plane ripping up as it approached the speed of sound, as the outer skin is not designed to resist such speed.”