The hunt for wreckage of the ill-fated Air France jet lost in an Atlantic storm gathered momentum with the arrival of the first Brazilian navy vessel. Four more are on their way. Pieces of wreckage from the doomed aircraft are likely to provide vital clues as to the nature of the accident.
So far, eleven aircraft are scanning the accident area, which lies about 1,100km (690 miles) north-east of Brazil's coast. No bodies have been recovered or sighted though the Brazilian air force is sighting increasing amounts of debris.
Image credit: Brazilian air force
The Brazilian air force has released pictures of an oil slick stretching over 20km (13 miles). Wreckage sighted so far is spread over a 5km area and includes a metallic object 7m in diameter.
"We are considering this 7m piece to be part of the plane, possibly part of the side, a piece of steel," said Brazilian air force spokesman Col Jorge Amaral. "It could be part of the fuselage or the tail."
Brazilian defence minister Nelson Jobim was quoted as saying that the presence of oil slicks may be an indication that neither fire nor explosion was responsible for bringing down the plane.
A total of 228 passengers and crew were on board the Air France Flight 447 from Rio to Paris when the plane went down, presumably after flying into a massive tropical storm.
Meanwhile, French aviation officials have warned that the jet's flight data recorders might not be recovered at all as they could be lying under waters 3,700m (12,100ft) deep. France's transportation minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, said that "black boxes" had never been recovered at such depths.
"The sea currents are powerful that far down," he said.
Paul Louis Arslanian, head of France's air accident investigation agency, said though flight recorders were designed to send homing signals for up to 30 days after hitting water, there was no guarantee they even survived the impact.
Sequence of events
According to a report in Brazil's Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper, citing an unidentified Air France source, the ill-fated airliner's pilot first despatched a message that he was entering thick black clouds.
Ten minutes later electronic messages sent from the plane indicated that the autopilot had disengaged and that a computer on board had switched to an alternative power system. The report said that controls needed to keep the aircraft stable had also been damaged and an alarm had been sounded, indicating that the situation aboard the aircraft was serious.
The last message from the aircraft said that there was loss of air pressure and electrical failure.
Reports quote US aviation safety expert, Bill Voss of the Flight Safety Foundation, as saying that the sequence of events as outlined by the Brazilian newspaper strongly suggested the plane had broken apart in the air. He did not provide any reasons for the conclusion, however.