Wreckage found on ocean floor may solve Airbus crash mystery

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Wreckage from a Paris-bound Airbus that crashed after setting off from Rio de Janeiro, including bodies still strapped into seats, has been found by robot submarines 22 months after the aircraft crashed into the Atlantic. The discovery has revived hopes that the mystery surrounding the crash of the A330-203 in June 2009, with the loss of 228 lives, will eventually be solved.

The French government said yesterday it was confident that the two flight recorders of the Air France plane would be found soon.

Substantial parts of the aircraft, including the fuselage, engines and undercarriage, were located in one area, suggesting it crashed into the sea almost intact. Operations to recover the wreckage and the bodies will begin in about three weeks.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France's Transport and Environment Minister, said yesterday that Remus robot submarines had found and photographed "a large section" of wreckage close to the aircraft's last known position 700 miles north-east of Brazil. The submarines were part of an elaborate salvage operation – said to be the most sophisticated ocean search of its kind ever attempted.

Three previous searches, which cost Air France and Airbus over €22m (£19.4m), came to nothing. The fourth, led by the search ship Aluci, which is equipped with robot submarines, began a few days ago.

"There are bodies visible in the remains of the plane," Ms Kosciusko-Morizet said. "The plane did not completely disintegrate. There is a large part of the passenger cabin and bodies can be seen... Identification should be possible."

The aircraft flew into stormy weather about three hours after leaving Rio. Details of the flight recorded remotely in France suggested that there might have been a malfunction of the plane's "pitot tubes", or speed recorders.