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Crash cause may prove elusive

FRENCH officials said yesterday that they might never discover why an Air France aircraft crashed into the Atlantic killing 228 people and that they might not even find the plane's black boxes on the ocean floor.

Brazilian and French navy vessels were rushing to an area about 1,200 kilometers northeast of Brazil's coastal city Recife, where debris from Monday's disaster was found, hoping to retrieve as much of the wreckage as possible.

France is also dispatching a mini submarine that can explore as far down as 6,000 meters and will try to locate the Airbus's flight data and voice recorders, which should shed light on the crash.

But Paul Louis Arslanian, the head of France's air accident investigation agency, said he was not sure that the black boxes would be recovered and the probe might prove frustrating.

"I am not totally optimistic. We cannot rule out that we will not find the flight recorders," Arslanian told reporters, warning that the inquiry could take a long time to wrap up.

He revealed few new elements, confirming only that the crew had sent a radio message reporting turbulence as it headed toward the equator and that the plane had later sent a rapid series of automated messages reporting malfunctions.

"For now, there is no indication to suggest that the plane had a problem before its takeoff," he said.

Authorities are baffled by how a modern plane operated by three experienced pilots could have suddenly plunged out of the sky, without even giving the pilots time to send a distress call.

Brazil sent four navy ships and a tanker to a remote, 5-kilometer strip of water that was dotted with airplane seats, an orange buoy, wiring, hunks of metal and jet-fuel stains.

The vessels had divers on board and smaller boats to lower into the ocean to retrieve the pieces.

Distraught relatives who had prayed for a miracle gave up hope as experts were certain that all aboard died on the flight.

"I just want to find my son's body so that he can have a dignified burial," said Aldair Gomes, the father of Marcelo Parente, who was the head of the Rio de Janeiro mayor's cabinet.

An ecumenical religious ceremony for the relatives and friends of those on the plane was held at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris later yesterday.


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