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Flight 447 may have broken up in air

AUTOPSIES have revealed fractures in the legs, hips and arms of Air France Flight 447 victims, injuries that - along with the large pieces of wreckage pulled from the Atlantic - strongly suggest the plane broke up in the air, experts said.

The president of France's Senate said yesterday he was sure that friction between experts from his country and Brazil will soon be resolved and assured victims they would be indemnified.

With more than 400 pieces of debris recovered from the ocean's surface, the top French investigator expressed optimism about determining what brought down the plane on May 31.

But he also called the search conditions - far from land in very deep water - "one of the worst situations ever known in an accident investigation."

French investigators are beginning to form "an image that is progressively less fuzzy," Paul-Louis Arslanian, who runs the French air accident investigation agency BEA, told a news conference on Wednesday outside Paris.

"We can say there is a little less uncertainty, so there is a little more optimism," he said. But "it is premature for the time being to say what happened."

A spokesman for Brazilian medical examiners said on Wednesday that autopsies revealed fractures on an undisclosed number of the 50 bodies recovered so far.

"Typically, if you see intact bodies and multiple fractures - arm, leg, hip fractures - it's a good indicator of a midflight break up," said Frank Ciacco, a former forensic expert at the US National Transportation Safety Board. "Especially if you're also seeing big pieces of aircraft."

The pattern of fractures was first reported on Wednesday by Brazil's O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, which cited unnamed investigators. The paper also reported that some victims were found with little or no clothing, and had no signs of burns.

"In an in-air break up like we are supposing here, the clothes are just torn away," said Jack Casey, an aviation safety consultant in Washington DC and a former accident investigator.

Casey said multiple fractures are consistent with a midair breakup. The plane was cruising at about 10,500 meters when it went down.

"Getting ejected into that kind of windstream is like hitting a brick wall - even if they stay in their seats, it is a crushing effect," Casey said.

When a jet crashes into water mostly intact, debris and bodies are generally broken into small pieces, according to Ciacco.



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