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Jet sent message on rudder problem

A BURST of last-minute automatic messages sent by Air France flight 447 includes one about a problem with a rudder safety device, but that does not explain what sent the jet plunging into the Atlantic Ocean, an aviation expert said yesterday.

The industry official, who has knowledge of the Air France investigation, told reporters that a transcript of the messages posted on the Website EuroCockpit is authentic but inconclusive.

The flight was carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31 when it ran into fierce thunderstorms.

One of the 24 automatic messages sent from the plane minutes before it disappeared points to a problem in the rudder limiter, a mechanism that limits how far the plane's rudder can move. The nearly intact vertical stabilizer - which includes the rudder - was fished out of the water by Brazilian searchers last week.

"There is a lot of information, but not many clues," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said jets such as the Airbus A330 automatically send such maintenance messages about once a minute during a flight. They are used by the ground crew to make repairs once a plane lands.

Martine del Bono, spokeswoman for the French investigative agency BEA in charge of the crash probe and Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath declined to comment on the transcript.

If the rudder move too far while traveling fast, it could shear off and take the vertical stabilizer with it, which some experts theorize may have happened, based on the relatively limited damage to the stabilizer.

The industry official, however, said the error message pertaining to the rudder limiter did not indicate it malfunctioned, but rather that it had locked itself in place because of conflicting speed readings.

Investigators have focused on the possibility that external speed monitors, Pitot tubes, iced over and gave false readings. Unless the plane's flight data and voice recorders are found, the cause of the accident may never be known.


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