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September 1, 2009

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Air France crash probe needs cash for answers

INVESTIGATORS looking for the Air France plane that disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean in June still cannot explain the crash and need more money and resources to search for the aircraft's data recorders, the man leading the probe said yesterday.

"At the moment, we can't explain the accident," said Paul-Louis Arslanian, head of France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis, or BEA.

He said a third, more meticulous search for plane debris and the flight recorders, should begin before the end of the year, but could cost tens of millions of euros.

"We are making progress and will make progress and I'm optimistic, but this will take time," he told journalists in Paris.

Investigators still don't know exactly where the Airbus A330 flying from Rio to Paris crashed, killing all 228 people aboard, or what caused the June 1 accident, Arslanian told a gathering of aerospace journalists in Paris.

The search has so far failed to locate the plane's data recorders, without which the full causes of the crash may never be fully known.

Arslanian said planemaker Airbus has offered to help fund the efforts, but more commitments are needed.

Arslanian said about 1,000 parts of the plane have so far been recovered from the Atlantic Ocean - including a nearly intact tail, an engine cover, uninflated life jackets, seats and kitchen items.

The BEA, together with an international team of experts, has been studying the data gathered from two phases of research to decide what a third search phase would cost and require.

The second phase of the search began after the black boxes stopped emitting signals, about a month after the crash.

The crash site is more than 1,450 kilometers off Brazil's northeastern coast.

A preliminary report into the crash said the plane hit the ocean intact and belly first at a high rate of speed.

Investigators have announced no signs of explosion or terrorism.

The Brazilian authorities have yet to send detailed information about the autopsies on the 50 bodies that have been recovered, Arslanian said.

He said the agency has not issued a recommendation to airlines over speed measuring equipment because he doesn't have the evidence to justify it.

Since the accident, European air safety regulators have told airlines to replace hundreds of air speed sensors of the type fitted to the crashed plane.

A series of automatic messages sent by the plane point to a malfunction of the external speed monitors, known as Pitot tubes, which some experts think may have iced over and given false speed readings to the Air France plane's computers as it ran into a turbulent thunderstorm.


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