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Crash team stumped: debris not flight 447's

FRENCH and Brazilian search teams have found no debris confirmed to have come from the Airbus A330 that vanished over the Atlantic, officials said yesterday.

Confusion broke out after Brazilian officials said on Thursday that a helicopter had plucked from the sea an airplane cargo pallet from the Air France flight - only to retract the claim hours later.

French Transportation Minister Dominique Bussereau suggested yesterday that searchers were back to square one in the hunt for flight 447 bound from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which went down off Brazil early Monday. The plane carried 228 people in the world's worst aviation disaster since 2001.

"French authorities have been saying for several days that we have to be extremely prudent," Bussereau told France's RTL radio. "Our planes and naval ships have seen nothing."

A French Defense Ministry official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said French teams "cannot precisely confirm the zone where the plane went down."

Relatives visit

Also yesterday, Brazil's Air Force was flying designated relatives of victims from Rio de Janeiro to the military's search command post in the northeastern city of Recife so they could tour the operation and ask questions. Recife has a large air force base where debris and any human remains will be brought after being picked up at sea.

The pallet Brazilian official initially said came from the plane was made of wood, and the plane was not carrying wooden pallets, Brazilian Air Force General Ramon Cardoso told reporters. He did not say where the pallet might have come from.

"So far, nothing from the plane has been recovered," Cardoso said.

He said a large oil slick spotted by search plane pilots was not from the Airbus, but that another slick of kerosene found may have been from the downed passenger jet.

Unknown oil

"The oil was not from the plane because there wasn't oil of that quantity (on the plane) to cause that slick," he said.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin and the US Pentagon have said there were no signs that terrorism was involved, but Morin declined to rule out the possibility.

Investigators are looking into whether malfunctions in instruments used to determine airspeed may have led the plane to be traveling at the wrong speed when it encountered turbulence from towering thunderstorms over the Atlantic. European plane maker Airbus has sent an advisory to all operators of the A330 reminding them of how to handle the plane in conditions similar to those experienced by flight 447.


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