The fourth campaign to find the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 has finally yielded positive results, as crews who resumed search operations on March 25 identified large aircraft subassemblies off the Brazilian coast on Sunday. All 228 aboard the Airbus A330-200 flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris died when it crashed on June 1, 2009.
The French Minister of Ecology announced today that recovery operations will begin within one month. So far, investigators have identified at least one aircraft engine, wing pieces and landing gear. The small, unmanned submarines have also found human remains.
The Remus 6000 autonomous underwater vehicles deploy from the Alucia, a ship operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). They use 2,000-foot-range side-scan sonars and cameras. The WHOI has taken charge of the search campaign, although the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) leads the investigation.
The wreckage appeared near the last known position of Flight AF447. Sophisticated drift simulations that suggested to look for the aircraft wreckage relatively far in the north of the last known position during the previous attempt, last year, yielded only disappointment.
So far, French BEA investigators have pointed to icing of the A330’s pitot speed probe as a contributing cause of the accident. However, they have made it clear that other factors also must have played a part. The BEA now holds reasonable hope for finding and recovering the cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Additional data might also come from the quick-access recorder and some systems’ memories.
The “Phase 4” search is being funded by Airbus and Air France. The French state has promised to fund the “Phase 5” recovery endeavor.