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ID begins on air crash dead

BRAZILIAN helicopters began ferrying bodies of Air France crash victims to shore for identification yesterday while a pilots' union said the airline was rapidly replacing speed sensors like those suspected of feeding false information to the doomed jet's computers.

Soldiers and medical personnel in surgical gowns carried body bags on stretchers off helicopters that flew the first recovered bodies from ships at sea to the island of Fernando de Noronha yesterday. Officials said the remains will then be taken by plane to the northeastern coastal city of Recife, where experts will try to identify them.

Brazilian officials said searchers had found 24 bodies by yesterday morning.

Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that identifying the bodies, knowing where people were sitting and studying their injuries could give clues to causes of the May 31 crash that killed 228 people.

With the plane's data recorders still apparently deep in the ocean, investigators have been focusing on the possibility that external speed monitors - called Pitot tubes - iced over and gave dangerously false readings to the plane's computers in a thunderstorm.

The L-shaped metal Pitot tubes jut from the wing or fuselage of a plane, and are heated to prevent icing. The pressure of air entering the tubes lets sensors measure the speed and angle of flight. A malfunctioning Pitot tube could mislead computer controlling the plane to accelerate or decelerate in a potentially dangerous fashion.

Air France said it began replacing the Pitot tubes on the Airbus A330 model on April 27 after an improved version became available and said it will finish the work in the "coming weeks."

The monitors had not yet been replaced on the plane that crashed while on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.


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