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Robot hunts `black boxes'

A BREAK in the weather allowed investigators to resume efforts to retrieve the two "black box" recorders from the bed of the Atlantic Ocean yesterday as they puzzled over what could have knocked EgyptAir Flight 990 out of the sky last Sunday.

In the meantime, grieving relatives of the 217 people who died in the crash were taken from their hotel in Newport, Rhode Island, to nearby Quonset Point where wreckage parts are being taken. There they saw the few pieces of the plane, including wheels and small sections of fuselage.

The search for the boxes was suspended late on Friday after high winds whipped up seas in the crash area, about 60 miles south of Nantucket. The US Navy said it expected to continue its probe of the seabed with its "deep-drone" robot submarine until this morning, when conditions are forecast to deteriorate once more.

The drone, which sees the ocean floor with its camera and sends pictures to a control room aboard USS Grapple, came tantalisingly close to the boxes on Friday. Officials said that the "pinging" noise emitted by the boxes became so loud at one point, controllers had to take their headphones away from their ears.

So far, however, the boxes have not been physically sighted. Once it is returned to the water, the drone will resume digging for them through silt and pieces of wreckage from the aircraft with its remote-controlled arm and claw.

Navy Captain Bert Marsh said he was confident that the boxes would be found. If their data is intact, it could take investigators much closer to explaining the riddle of the crash.

"They know they're there, it's just a matter of time until they are able to dig one or both of them up," Capt Marsh said.