French investigators say they have found parts of an Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009, and hope to locate the black boxes.
A deep-sea salvage vessel located pieces of a plane in the past 24 hours and French experts believe they come from the missing Airbus.
“During search operations in the sea carried out in the last 24 hours… the team on board the Alucia located parts of a plane,” France’s Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) said in a statement.
“These elements were identified by BEA investigators as belonging to the wreckage of the A330-203 plane, flight AF 447” [that crashed], the statement also said.
BEA director Jean-Paul Troadec also said that investigators have “hope” of finding the plane’s black boxes because the debris area was “relatively concentrated.”
Flight 447 went down on June 1 in stormy weather three hours after taking off, killing all 228 people on board.
The crash was the worst in Air France’s 75-year history.
Previous sweeps of the Atlantic Ocean using submarines equipped with deep-sea sonar had turned up some debris but no sign of the flight data and cockpit recorders.
The flight recorders from the Airbus A330 are key to understanding what caused the disaster, which remains largely unexplained.
A new search for the wreckage had been launched on March 25 with the help of the Alucia, an American exploration vessel – the fourth attempt to find the debris in the hope of discovering what caused the crash.
Mr Troadec said the parts of the wreckage that had been found consisted of “engines and certain elements of the wing.”
The official cause of the crash remains undetermined, but it has been partly blamed on malfunctioning speed sensors used by Airbus, with Air France accused of not responding quickly enough to reports that they might be faulty.
Air France and Airbus – who are being probed for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash – are paying the estimated $US12.7 million cost of the search.
Mr Troadec had earlier said that the latest search would take a different approach, with investigators trying to simply find the wreckage rather than searching specifically for the flight recorders, or black boxes.
The latest search also included a much larger area, covering a 75-kilometre radius around the last known position of Flight 447, which went down roughly midway between Brazil and Senegal.
A third search of the ocean floor to try to locate the black boxes ended in failure last May.
Finding the black boxes is seen as essential to help crash experts and relatives understand why flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic.
The head of the French association representing the families of the victims, Jean-Baptiste Audousset, also spoke of “hope for the families”, but warned they would remain cautious and were waiting for proof.
The BEA is due to hold a press conference on Monday afternoon (local time) in Paris to show the first pictures of the plane parts recovered. Agencies