Missing Air France Jet Found In Ocean

Wreckage from an Air France airliner that crashed in the Atlantic two years ago has now been found at the bottom of the ocean. The French government says large parts of the fuselage, the engines and even identifiable bodies have been found nearly 2.5 miles down in an area known as the mid-ocean ridge. There have been three previous attempts to find the aircraft, which crashed with 228 people on board during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009.

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Investigators have found the bulk of the wreckage from an Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic two years ago. Two hundred twenty-eight people were on board when the plane fell from the sky, on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The cause of the accident has never been determined, though investigators hope this latest discovery will provide some answers.

Eleanor Beardsley has the latest.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Officials showed startling photos of the wreckage of Air France Flight 447, lying nearly two and a half miles beneath the surface of the sea: intact wheels from the landing gear, two engines, a silt-covered panel of the fuselage. But what was most surprising was what wasn't shown to reporters. About 50 apparently identifiable bodies were also filmed by the underwater cameras.

French Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said work would begin immediately to bring the plane to the surface.

Ms. NATHALIE KOSCIUSKO-MORIZET (Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing of France): (Through translator) In the next few weeks, we'll begin the phase of bringing up the pieces of the plane, and of the bodies we have seen. They will be brought to the surface and identified.

BEARDSLEY: The Rio-to-Paris flight went down in stormy weather on June 1, 2009. The exact cause of the crash has never been determined, though malfunctioning airspeed sensors were thought to play a major role.

Family organizations expressed great relief today, but some relatives of the victims have already voiced a desire to let their loved ones lie in peace on the ocean floor.

Leron Lame(ph), who lost his brother in the crash, says the news is unsettling.

Mr. LERON LAME: (Through translator) I just wasn't expecting someone to tell me that two years later, my brother might be brought out of the water. It's psychologically disturbing. I thought I had done my grieving but now, I don't think it's over yet.

BEARDSLEY: This fourth search for the wreckage covered a huge area miles below the surface. The searchers combed the ocean floor using underwater vehicles that remained submerged for up to 20 hours, scanning a mountainous area known as the midocean ridge.

The four searches cost around $38 million, paid for by Airbus and Air France. The French government will pay for the recovery of the bodies in the wreckage.

Although much time and expense has been devoted to this investigation, aviation columnist Pierre Sparaco says the world's flight safety community cannot accept an unexplained accident.

Mr. PIERRE SPARACO (Columnist): Of course, when there is an accident, there are lessons to be learned. And if there is no lesson simply because there is no conclusion, it's a nightmare for everyone.

BEARDSLEY: Sparaco says this investigation has been particularly difficult because up 'til now, there was little to go on - only limited wreckage, and no radio traffic because the plane was out of range when it crashed. He says that's why finding the cockpit voice and data recorders, the so-called black boxes, is so important.

Mr. JEAN-PAUL TROADEC (Director, Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses): (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The head of the French aviation accident bureau, Jean-Paul Troadec, says they hope the black boxes are still attached to the fuselage and will be recovered with the wreckage. But even if they are brought up, says Troadec, it's not clear they'll provide any answers after two years on the ocean floor.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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