Success for fourth attempt to find wreckage of Airbus A330 that crashed in June 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris as authorities say salvage operations could begin within a month to recover passengers' bodies.
First pictures of Atlantic crash Air France jet to be released
Crash investigators were due to unveil the first undersea images of the wreck of an Air France passenger jet that crashed in the Atlantic almost two years ago with the loss of all 228 people on board.
Investigators announced on Sunday that a fourth and final attempt to find the wreckage of the Airbus A330 that crashed in June 2009 en route from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris had been successful and promised to release photographs.
Salvage operations could begin within a month to recover passengers' bodies and the wreckage of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic almost two years ago, a minister said Monday.
"A tender has been launched" for the salvage work, the French transport minister, Nathalie Kosciusco-Morizet, told reporters, adding that bids had to be in by Thursday and work should begin "within three weeks to a month".
The head of France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) Jean-Paul Troadec said that investigators now have hope of finding the plane's black box data recorders.
"The favourable news is that the debris area is relatively concentrated. And this gives us hope of finding the black boxes," he said.
Troadec said the parts of the wreckage that had been found consisted of "engines and certain elements of the wings".
Ms Kosciusko-Morizet told RTL radio that bodies had been seen in the area, photographed by three Remus autonomous submarines.
She told France Inter public radio that "this is a large part of the plane, in one piece."
The new search for the wreckage was launched on March 25 with the help of the Alucia, an exploration vessel of the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
A source close to the investigation said that the wreckage had been found "near the (plane's) last known position, in a limited area a few hundred metres to the west of this position.
"The fact that the debris is concentrated in a relatively small area favours the hypothesis that the plane did not break up in flight. The plane was intact when it hit the sea," the source said.
The official cause remains undetermined, but it has been partly blamed on malfunctioning speed sensors used by Airbus, with Air France accused of not responding quickly enough to reports that they might be faulty.
Investigators hope that bringing the wreckage to the surface will help explain how the plane broke up and what caused it to crash.
"Studying the breaks, how the pieces are bent, will show whether the plane hit the water flat, on its side, et cetera. It will perhaps give some indication of the speed of the impact," the source said.
But investigators, Airbus and relatives of the dead remain cautious, stressing that without the black boxes the enigma of the plane's last moments may never be resolved.
"We do hope that this discovery will lead to the retrieval and the reading of the two recorders because these data are essential for the understanding of this accident," said Airbus boss Tom Enders.
Air France and Airbus, who are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, the deadliest in the carrier's history, are paying the estimated $12.7 million cost of the search.
The latest search included a much larger area of a 75-kilometre radius around the last known position of Flight 447.
A third search of the ocean floor to try to locate the black boxes had ended in failure last May.