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Crash investigators 'optimistic'

SEARCH teams have recovered more than 400 pieces of debris from Air France Flight 447 but investigators still do not know why the plane crashed into the Atlantic, the French accident chief said yesterday.

Paul-Louis Arslanian, head of the French air accident investigation agency BEA, expressed "a little more optimism" about the investigation as the discovery of so much debris has narrowed the vast search zone off the northeast coast of Brazil.

"We are in a situation that is a bit more favorable than the first days," Arslanian said. "We can say there is a little less uncertainty, so there is a little more optimism." But he added: "It is premature for the time being to say what happened," he added.

Rescuers and military search equipment from Brazil, France, the United States and other countries are methodically scanning the surface and depths of the Atlantic for signs of the Airbus A330 that crashed on May 31 after running into thunderstorms en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. All 228 people aboard were killed.

Arslanian said the debris found came from "all zones" of the plane, but did not describe it in detail or say what proportion of the plane had been retrieved. The wreckage, some in sections so large and heavy that cranes were required to move it, is being collected in a hangar in Recife, Brazil.

"It is almost certain today that the whole plane won't be recovered," he said.

Still missing are the plane's two black boxes, its flight data and voice recorders, thought to be deep under water. The black boxes, which provide information about what happened to the plane before and during the crash, will emit signals for at least another two weeks. After that, the signals will fade.

French-chartered ships are trolling with two high-tech US Navy underwater listening devices attached to 6,000 meters of cable. The black boxes send out an electronic tapping sound that can be heard up to 2 kilometers away.

That search area has a radius of 80 kilometers, Arslanian said. "It is one of the worst situations ever known in an accident investigation," he added.

Without the black boxes, the investigation has focused on a flurry of automated messages sent by the plane minutes before it lost contact. One of those messages suggested that external speed sensors had iced over and destabilized the plane's control systems.



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