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Robot sub finds black box from crashed Air France jet


Director of the Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA) Jean-Paul Troadec, head of the French office investigating the accident of the Air France airliner crash off Brazil, speaks at the BEA headquarters in le Bourget on May 10, 2010.


Eric Piermont

Investigators have recovered the missing memory unit of the flight data recorder from an Air France flight from Rio to Paris and hope that it will indicate why the aircraft went down in a remote area of the mid-Atlantic in 2009, killing all 228 people on board.

France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) said a search by a submarine located the unit Sunday morning 12,800 feet below the ocean's surface.

"The investigation team located and identified the memory unit from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) at 10 h UTC this morning," said BEA, which has been tasked with investigating the disaster.

The statement included photos of the recorder — a red cylinder partially buried in sand on the sea floor. The BEA statement said the device was "in good physical condition" and had been "lifted by the Remora 6000 ROV [robot submarine] on board the ship Ile de Sein."

"At this stage, the box seems to be in good physical condition. Our experts will tell us if there's hope to read the data," said BEA director Jean-Paul Troadec, Agence France Press reported. "If the data can be used it will allow the enquiry to make headway because the FDR [flight data recorder] records the altitude, speed, and the various positions of the rudder."

However, a BEA spokesperson told the Associated Press that the recordings may yet prove unusable owing to the undersea pressure they were subjected to for nearly two years

"We can't say in advance that we're going to be able to read it until it's been opened," a BEA spokeswoman told the AP.

The device was expected to arrive at BEA offices within eight to 10 days.

The flight data recorder stores technical data from the flight while another so-called "black box" records cockpit conversations.

Investigators said Wednesday that search teams had retrieved part of a black box flight recorder from the Airbus A330 but not the part containing the key data. The memory unit was found detached from the chassis nearby, the spokeswoman told the AP.

Submarine probes were continuing the search for a second black box, she said.

Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to the French capital, Paris crashed into the Atlantic northeast of Brazil 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, according to the AP. Investigators have said the crash was likely caused by a series of problems, and not just sensor error.