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Brazil ends search for bodies

The 26-day search, which recovered 51 bodies of the 228 people who were on board the Airbus A330 that came down on June 1 has come to an end.

Brazil's military has ended its search for more bodies and debris from an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic nearly four weeks ago. The 26-day operation, which also had the help of French vessels and French, Spanish and US aircraft, recovered 51 bodies of the 228 people who were on board the Airbus A330 that came down on June 1, air force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Henry Munhoz said. "It has been nine days since we have located bodies," stressed Lt Col Munhoz, which led Brazil to conclude that "it is impossible to recover more dead bodies or remains in the search area".

Between June 12 and 26, only two bodies were recovered, the last being on June 17, he said. The bodies were handed over to federal police experts in Recife for identification. "What we have today in the sea is negligible," Lt Col Munhoz added, speaking in the northeastern city of Recife. More than 600 pieces have also been recovered from the plane, most of which has been delivered to a French-led technical research team.

But a search will continue for the aircraft's black boxes that are set to continue emitting homing signals until July 2. The search is to be led by France, which has already contributed a nuclear submarine and ships to the effort. The cause of the disaster has not been established. The French maritime research vessel Pourquoi Pas, the French nuclear submarine Emeraude and two high-sea vessels equipped with sonars are taking part in the deep-sea search for the vital data and voice recorders of Flight 447, which was carrying passengers and crew from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

The mini-submarine Nautile, which can operate at a depth of six kilometers and was used by research teams who explored the wreck of the Titanic, has been taken to the debris zone on board the Pourquoi Pas and was to be deployed once the signal from the black boxes was detected. The boxes would help investigators piece together the final minutes of the ill-fated flight that went down during a storm as it was flying through turbulence.

No distress call was received from the pilots, but there was a series of 24 automated messages sent by the plane in the final minutes of the doomed flight. French investigators probing the crash have said that the airspeed sensors, or pitot probes, had been feeding inconsistent readings to the cockpit. Conflicting airspeed data can cause the autopilot to shut down and in extreme cases lead the plane to stall or fly dangerously fast, possibly causing a high-altitude breakup.

But the Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA), a French investigating agency, along with Airbus and Air France, has said there is as yet no firm evidence linking the speed monitors and the crash of the jetliner. Air France has upgraded all sensors on its long-haul fleet as a precautionary measure after protests from pilots. The crash was the worst in Air France's 75-year history. *AFP

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