US technology heads to Brazil for black box search

RECIFE, Brazil – A U.S. Navy team was flying to Brazil on Monday with high-tech underwater listening devices to help the search for the black boxes from an Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Brazilian and French military ships, which have so far recovered 17 bodies and large amounts of plane wreckage from the sea, resumed their search amid the floating debris.

What caused the Airbus A330 to crash May 31 with 228 people on board will remain a mystery unless searchers can locate the plane's black box flight data and voice recorders, likely buried deep in the middle of the ocean.

Two U.S. Navy devices that can detect emergency beacons to a depth of 20,000 feet 6,100 meters are being flown to Brazil with a Navy team, according to the Pentagon. They will be delivered to two French tugs that will then listen for transmissions from the black boxes, which are programmed to emit signals for at least 30 days.

Bodies recovered Sunday raised the total to 17, after pilots in a grid search found 15 corpses about 45 miles 70 kilometers from where the jet sent out messages signaling electrical failures and loss of cabin pressure.

The first two bodies were found Saturday. Authorities also announced that searchers spotted two airplane seats, debris with Air France's logo, and recovered dozens of structural components from the plane. They had already recovered jet wing fragments, and said hundreds of personal items believed to from passengers were plucked from the water.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said his nation's military would do all it can to retrieve bodies and return them to relatives.

"We know how significant it is for a family to recover their loved one," Silva said Monday on his weekly radio show. He added: "During this painful time it's not going to resolve the problem, but it is an immense comfort to know they can bury their loved ones."

France is leading the investigation into the cause of the crash, while Brazilian officials are focusing on the recovery of victims and plane wreckage.

There is "no more doubt" that the wreckage is from Air France Flight 447, Brazilian Air Force Col. Henry Munhoz said Sunday.

Flight 447 disappeared and likely broke up in midair in turbulent weather the night of May 31 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

The search is focusing on a zone of several hundred square miles square kilometers roughly 400 miles 640 kilometers northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast.

Brazilian authorities have refused to release the precise coordinates of where they are looking, except to say the area lies southeast of the last jet transmission and could have indicated the pilot was trying to turn around in mid-flight and head back to the islands.

The investigation is increasingly focused on whether external instruments on the Airbus A330 may have iced over, confusing speed sensors and leading computers to set the plane's speed too fast or slow — a potentially deadly mistake.

The French agency investigating the disaster said airspeed instruments on the plane had not been replaced as the maker had recommended, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions about what role that may have played in the crash.

The agency, BEA, said the plane received inconsistent airspeed readings from different instruments as it struggled in a massive thunderstorm.

Nine bodies have been recovered by Brazilian authorities: four men, four women and one that was impossible to identify by gender, Munhoz said. He did not have information about the genders of the eight bodies recovered by French military helicopters that were transferred to a French ship.

Marco Sibaja reported from Recife and Alan Clendenning from Sao Paulo. AP Writers Emma Vandore and Greg Keller in Paris, Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo, and David McFadden in Puerto Rico contributed to this report.

A young sea turtle is seen on Runduma island, Wakatobi. AFP/File/Adek Berry