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Faulty speed readings detected before A330 crash

AIRBUS had detected faulty speed readings on its A330 jets ahead of last week's crash of an Air France airliner, and had advised clients to replace a part, French air investigators said yesterday.

But the head of France's air accident agency (BEA) said it was too soon to say if problems with speed sensors were responsible for the disaster over the Atlantic Ocean which cost the lives of all 228 passengers and crew.

"Some of the sensors were earmarked to be changed ... but that does not mean that without these replacement parts the plane would have been defective," said BEA chief Paul Louis Arslanian.

Airbus, maker of the A330 jet that crashed, issued a second advisory late on Thursday that pilots should follow standard procedures - to maintain flight speed and angle - if they thought speed indicators were faulty.

The Air France plane was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it suffered a rapid succession of technical problems after hitting heavy turbulence.

Search crews have failed to recover any wreckage so far and French and Brazilian aircrews are scouring a stretch of ocean some 1,100 kilometers northeast of Brazil's coast where experts believe the plane might have come down.

Arslanian said the plane had sent a series of 24 automated messages indicating a series of system failures before it vanished. In the middle of the stream of data was one message showing inconsistent speed readings.

"You have a plane which transmitted a message, and it is not an exceptional or unheard of message, particular on the A330, which detected incoherent speed readings," Arslanian said.

The signals sent by Air France Flight 447 before it disappeared also showed its autopilot was not on, he said. It was not clear if it had been switched off or had stopped working because it received conflicting airspeed readings.

Airbus says the investigation found the flight received inconsistent readings from different instruments as it struggled in a massive thunderstorm.

Investigators are anxious to locate the plane's flight recorders to try to get more information about what went wrong, but are not optimistic the black boxes would be retrieved.

"This is what we are looking for in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean," Arslanian said, holding up a small, cylindrical canister which is attached to the flight recorders and designed to send homing signals for up to 30 days. "We have absolutely no guarantee that it is still attached to the recorders. They can get detached," he said.

The search zone is a relatively uncharted patch of ocean with deep ravines. France is sending a nuclear-powered submarine to try to locate the flight recorders, which could be at a depth of anywhere between 864 and 4,000 meters.

Meteorological experts said the plane did cross a storm zone, but that it did not pose an apparent threat.

The Airbus A330 disappeared nearly four hours after takeoff on Sunday night.

It was Air France's deadliest plane crash and the world's worst commercial air accident since 2001.


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