Air France crash debris recovered as theories focus on plane speed

• Source suggests plane was flying too slowly
• Wreckage spread across more than 50 miles

A Brazilian search team today began retrieving debris of the Air France passenger jet that crashed into the Atlantic on Monday, as questions emerged about the speed the aircraft was travelling when it went down.

The French daily Le Monde reported that the jet was flying too slowly before the disaster, citing a source close to the investigation. The paper said Airbus, the manufacturer of the plane, was about to issue recommendations advising companies using the A330 about optimal speeds for difficult weather conditions. Airbus did not comment on the report.

It was not clear if air speed alone could trigger a breakdown of aircraft systems, but any recommendations from Airbus about its jets would fuel speculation over the causes of the mysterious crash over the Atlantic.

The full Air France flight 447, carrying 228 people, disappeared four hours after taking off from Rio de Janeiro bound for Paris. Ships and aircraft have been scouring the ocean for signs of the ill-fated plane, and French officials said yesterday that the first pieces of wreckage had been retrieved. Debris is spread across more than 55 miles of ocean approximately 600 miles north-east of Brazil's coast.

The plane sent no mayday signals but investigators are studying several pages of automatic messages emitted by the plane over a three-minute period after it entered a stormy weather zone. The messages showed a quick succession of electrical faults followed by a loss of cabin pressure and systems shutting down. Investigators are reviewing the messages to determine whether a series of catastrophic events could have led to a loss of control and the plane breaking apart in mid-air.

Aviation experts in Paris have suggested that the fact that a long slick of petrol had been found on the water would indicate that the plane broke up but did not explode in mid-flight.

Air France's chief executive, Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, told families in a private meeting today that there were no survivors and that the plane had disintegrated either in the air or when it slammed into the ocean.

Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc, head of a victims' association, who is counselling the families, said: "What is clear is that there was no landing. There's no chance the escape slides came out."

The Spanish daily El Mundo reported that an Air Comet pilot flying from Lima to Madrid not far from the crash zone saw "an intense burst of white light" that seemed to drop down vertically and split into six.

The French defence minister and the Pentagon have said there were no signs of terrorism.

The French armed forces spokesman, Christophe Prazuck, said: "Everyone has doubts about everything at the moment and we do not have the slightest beginnings of an answer yet."

Prazuck said the priority was to retrieve debris before it sank. He added that sea currents were dispersing the wreckage.

The Pourquoi Pas, a French sea research vessel, is heading to the search zone carrying manned and unmanned submarines, including one mini-sub used to explore the wreckage of the Titanic. But the vessel will not reach the area until 12 June.

The plane's "black box" flight recorders, which France has already acknowledged could prove impossible to find, emit signals for 30 days.


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Air France crash jet's black boxes may never be recovered from Atlantic
Accident investigation chief 'not optimistic' as Brazilian navy divers head for site of wreckage

Mark Tran and agencies

03, Jun, 2009 @11:12 AM

Article image
Air France plane crash: race to find black box after debris spotted

Ministers say lightning alone does not explain crash, as questions raised about Airbus computer system

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Dan Milmo

02, Jun, 2009 @10:32 PM

Article image
Tail section of downed Air France Airbus recovered

Find raises hopes investigators may be able to locate jet's voice and data recorders

Peter Walker

09, Jun, 2009 @1:19 AM

Article image
Air France plane crash

Pictures from the disappearance over the Atlantic of flight 447 from Brazil to Paris

01, Jun, 2009 @2:15 PM

Article image
Debris found in Atlantic not from missing Air France plane
Cargo pallet spotted by Brazilian military jets could not have come from flight 447

Mark Tran, Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and agencies

05, Jun, 2009 @8:12 AM

Article image
Debris sighted in hunt for missing Air France plane
Brazilian air force spots metal and seating after jet carrying 228 people disappeared

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Mark Rice-Oxley and Dan Milmo

02, Jun, 2009 @1:38 PM

Article image
Video: Air France CEO on the aviation catastrophe

Air France CEO makes a statement to the press about the aviation catastrophe

01, Jun, 2009 @2:44 PM

Article image
Britons among Air France crash victims
Most of 216 passengers were Brazilian or French, with five British citizens and two Irish also presumed dead

Angelique Chrisafis, Mark Tran and agencies

01, Jun, 2009 @6:08 PM

Air France plane crash: six more bodies found
Six more bodies have been recovered from the Atlantic Ocean where an Air France jet crashed killing 216 passengers, bringing to 50 the number of bodies found since the crash on May 31

Staff and agencies

13, Jun, 2009 @12:50 AM

Bristol schoolboy among victims of Air France plane crash
Clifton College confirms boy was one of seven children on passenger list

Matthew Weaver, Henry McDonald and Peter Walker

02, Jun, 2009 @3:39 PM