Three more bodies found in search for Air France plane

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The Independent Online

Brazilian navy ships found more bodies from the Atlantic plane crash yesterday, and Air France said it had been replacing speed sensors at the centre of the investigation into the cause of the disaster.

Air France said late on Saturday that it was accelerating the replacement of speed sensors on all its Airbus long-haul planes. It said it had begun the switch over five weeks before Monday's crash, but only after disagreeing with Airbus over the aircraft manufacturer's proposal to carry out tests before replacing them.

An Airbus spokesman declined to comment and said it could only discuss the investigation with the French air authorities. "We are fully supporting the investigation with logistics, information and documentation," he said.

Investigators are considering the possibility that the speed sensors on Flight 447 may have iced up, resulting in faulty readings that caused the pilots to set the plane at a dangerous speed as it passed through violent equatorial thunderstorms.

But the head of France's air accident agency BEA said on Saturday that it was too soon to say if problems with the speed sensors, known as pitot tubes, were in any way responsible.

The crash of the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people on board was the world's deadliest air disaster since 2001 and the worst in Air France's 75-year history. Brazilian navy ships found the bodies of two men and some debris.

This included a blue seat with a serial number matching that of the crashed plane, a rucksack that contained a vaccination card, and a briefcase with an Air France ticket inside on Saturday. Three more bodies were found in the Atlantic early yesterday.

France's BEA said on Saturday the A330 had sent out 24 error messages in four minutes including one indicating a discrepancy in speed data. Air France said it had first noticed that ice in the sensors was causing lost data in planes like the A330 in May 2008 but that it failed to agree with Airbus on the right steps to take.

According to Air France, Airbus offered to carry out an in-flight test on new sensors this year but the airline decided to go ahead and started changing them anyway from 27 April.

But it acknowledged it had decided not to carry out an Airbus recommendation in September 2007 that airlines install a new sensor originally developed for the smaller A320.