French investigators report on search for lost Airbus

18th June 2009 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The French air accident investigation agency, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), has reported that, so far, the search operation in the South Atlantic has found no sign of the main wreckage of lost Air France Airbus A330-200 F-GZCP, which is lying at the bottom of the sea, following its crash on June 1.

Nor have the searching vessels, which include a nuclear submarine, yet detected any transmission from the locator beacons attached to the aircraft’s Cockpit Voice Recorder and Digital Flight Data Recorder – the so-called Black Boxes.

Speaking at BEA headquarters at Le Bourget airport, Paris, Chief Investigator Paul-Louis Arslanian explained that currently the aim of the seabed search operation was to narrow down the area in which the wreckage is likely to be.

At the moment, the area being surveyed was “very large” with the depth of the seabed varying from a minimum of 864 m – this being the peak of an undersea mountain – to a maximum of 4 606 m in a valley.

Arslanian pointed out that the locator beacons had a life of ”at least” 30 days. The search vessels are listening for the beacons using receivers trailed on lines at different depths.

He revealed that three deep-sea slavage ships, plus remotely operated vehicles, and submarines, were on stand-by to deploy once the beacons were detected or the wreckage found.

He also reported that the operation involves five countries – France, Brazil, the US, the Netherlands, and the UK. The US has lent specialist equipment to France for the seabed search, while investigators from the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch are with their French colleagues on board the search ships, as are specialists from Airbus and Air France.

Regarding the search for debris and bodies on the sea surface, Arslanian assured that the human remains were being treated with care.

He stated that the first floating debris was found on June 6, some 100 km south-west of a waypoint (a point on a flight chart, or map, not a real place) codenamed Tasil. (F-GZCP should have reported in at Tasil, but did not and is believed to have crashed before reaching it.) This debris zone was spread across an area about 50 km in diameter.

Subsequently, more debris was found some 50 Km north-west of Tasil. The floating wreckage is drifting northwards and is spreading over a wider area – the debris zone now extends some 200 km in length.

Arslanian refused to speculate on the cause of the accident, stating that the BEA has as yet no new technical data about the lost aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian Air Force, which is coordinating the search operation, has reported that the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral has recovered more human remains. Separately, the bodies of six victims of the disaster were flown by a C-130 Hercules transport from the island of Fernando de Noronha to the city of Recife on the mainland.

In addition, the Brazilian Navy patrol ship Caboclo is due to dock in Recife on Friday, June 19, to unload a significant quantity of debris and luggage from the lost Airbus. This material will be handed over to representatives of the BEA, which is responsible for investigating the accident.