Two bodies found from doomed Air France Airbus

Hopes fade as rescue teams say there is now no chance of finding any Air France survivors

The bodies of two men believed to have been on board the Air France jet that disappeared last Monday were hauled from the Atlantic Ocean yesterday by members of a Brazilian search team.

Rescue teams from Brazil and France have been scouring a remote area of the Atlantic since the Air France flight carrying 228 people disappeared as it travelled between Rio de Janeiro and Paris.

It was the worst air disaster since 2001. Five Britons, 58 Brazilians and 61 French citizens were on board the Airbus, which disappeared off radar screens in the early hours of Monday morning.

Jorge Amaral, a colonel from the Brazilian air force, said that the bodies were spotted around 400 miles from the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha at between 5am and 6am local time yesterday.

"We can confirm that debris and bodies from the Air France plane were recovered from the water," he told reporters at the air force base in Recife.

Amaral said that the Brazilian navy pulled the first of the bodies from the water at 9.30am. At 11.13am a second body was removed from the Atlantic. Neither victim was identified.

In the same area the search team also found a leather case containing a laptop computer and a boarding pass and a backpack containing a vaccination certificate. Both bags had names written inside them, although these were not released.

Air France confirmed last night that the name on the boarding pass corresponded to the name of one person thought to have been on the aircraft when it crashed.

A blue seat, with the serial number 237011038331-0, was also recovered, as were several oxygen masks. Brazilian authorities said they had passed the serial number to Air France and were waiting for confirmation that it belonged to the Airbus-330.

Speaking to the Jornal do Commercio newspaper, Amaral described the find as a "positive result". He conceded that there was now virtually no chance of finding survivors saying that the search had moved into its "third phase" - the search for wreckage and bodies.

"The first and second days were spent looking for survivors," he said. "It wasn't possible. We didn't find any."

News that two bodies had been recovered followed the announcement by French investigators that flight 447 had sent 24 error messages before disappearing from radar screens. Investigators also believed that the aircraft's autopilot system had not been working when the accident occurred.

Brazil announced yesterday that it would step up the search, sending a further two navy vessels to the region to help with the hunt for wreckage. Twelve Brazilian air force planes and two French planes are currently involved in the search. France is said to be sending a nuclear-powered submarine to try to locate the plane's two flight recorders, which could be anywhere between 3,000ft and 13,000ft below the surface.

But aviation experts say that the truth about what happened to flight 447 may never be known. Ronaldo Jenkins, technical director of Brazil's airline union and an expert in aviation accidents, said: "It is possible that they will find absolutely nothing, that this plane will never be located."

Police took DNA samples from the relatives of Brazilian victims in a Rio de Janeiro hotel. Some were still clinging to the hope that their loved ones might still be found. "It is possible that he survived," Nelson Faria Marinho, whose 40-year-old son was on board the Airbus-330, told the Rio newspaper O Dia. "He has taken a survival course."

In an interview with Brazilian TV Marco Tulio Moreno, whose parents were on board flight 447, described the discovery of the bodies as a "relief", adding: "Now we have some evidence of what happened to the plane. This lessens our anguish."

At a memorial service in Rio de Janeiro relatives paid tribute to the victims of Air France 447. Ana Claudia Dutra, the cousin of Brazilian conductor Silvio Barbato, told the O Globo newspaper that she had not given up hope. "Many still believe, as I do, that there are people who are alive, who are fighting to survive, to be able to come home and say: 'Look, I'm back. I'm here. I won this war'."


Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

The GuardianTramp

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