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The French nuclear-powered submarine Emeraude is seen in this undated file photo released from the French defence ministry.
The French nuclear-powered submarine Emeraude is seen in this undated file photo released from the French defence ministry.

Airline got replacement sensors days before crash

Air France received replacement airspeed sensors for its Airbus 330s days before the fatal crash of Flight 447, the airline's chief executive says.

PARIS // Air France received replacement airspeed sensors for its Airbus 330s three days before the fatal crash of Flight 447, but the airline's chief executive said today that he is not convinced faulty monitors were the cause. As storms bore down on the crash zone off Brazil, a French submarine searched the depths of the Atlantic Ocean for the black boxes that hold the best hope of finding out what did happen to the plane when it flew into heavy storms on May 31 with 228 people aboard.

So far, investigators have focused on the possibility that external speed monitors - Pitot tubes - iced over and gave false readings to the plane's computers. Replacement monitors for jet models of the same type as the crashed plane arrived three days before the fatal accident, the airline chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said today. The incidents were "not catastrophic" and planes with the old Pitots are considered airworthy, Mr Gourgeon said.

"Because I am not convinced that the sensors are the cause of the accident, and we have said it, I had no need to issue a press release the day after the accident," Mr Gourgeon added, responding to criticism that there was a lack of transparency. "It's perhaps because we spend too much time with the families and not enough the press that you say this." Brazilian teams warned they might end the hunt for floating bodies and wreckage next week. They found no bodies yesterday, the first unsuccessful search day since Saturday, despite widening the search into the waters off the West African nation of Senegal.

A total of 41 bodies had been recovered. Air France hopes that the plane's flight recorders will be recovered, but even without them examinations of the debris and bodies recovered from the crash are expected to shed new light on what happened to the plane, he said. "We will know much more, I think, after the autopsies allow us to better understand the technical causes of death and when the debris have been examined by experts," Mr Gourgeon said.

"In a week there will be a little more information but the important point will be the recorders." The French magazine L'Express reported that French intelligence services had matched the names of two passengers on Flight 447 with those of suspects linked to terrorism. It added that it might only be a case of people with similar names. The names themselves were not reported. A senior French internal security official told reporters that French security "didn't find any suspicious names" on the passenger list. "That doesn't mean there aren't on a suspect list, but it's not ours," she said.

Other police and intelligence agencies said they also had no information about terrorist connections to Flight 447. Brazil's federal police have examined airport video of passengers, but only to help identify bodies and not because of any suspicions of terrorism, a spokeswoman said. *AP

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