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Originally published June 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 7, 2009 at 12:20 AM

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2 Air France bodies found

Search crews scouring the Atlantic Ocean found the bodies of two men from an Air France jet that disappeared with 228 people on board, the Brazilian air force said Saturday, just hours after French investigators announced that the plane had been scheduled to have a part of its airspeed sensor system replaced.

The New York Times

PARIS — Search crews scouring the Atlantic Ocean found the bodies of two men from an Air France jet that disappeared with 228 people on board, the Brazilian air force said Saturday, just hours after French investigators announced that the plane had been scheduled to have a part of its airspeed sensor system replaced.

The plane's manufacturer, Airbus, had advised operators of some of its A330 aircraft to replace the part, the head of French air investigations said Saturday.

It was unclear, however, if the part played any role in the disaster, and Airbus said it issued its advisory two years ago because a better part was available, not because the existing one was "a safety issue."

The bodies and some personal items recovered Saturday — which appeared to be the first physical remains found of Flight 447 — were fished from the sea hundreds of miles off Brazil's northeast coast, according to a Brazilian air-force official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Search crews also found a leather briefcase containing an Air France boarding pass with the flight's number on it, Brazilian authorities said.

"The important thing is taking the weight off the shoulders of the relatives," Jorge Amaral, the assistant head of the Brazilian air-force press office, said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, investigators are looking into whether inconsistent speed measurements could have played a role in the crash last Sunday night. The sensing system includes a part called a Pitot tube, which is the part Airbus recommended replacing. The tubes are vulnerable to icing in cold weather, which the plane, flying through severe thunderstorms from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, could have experienced.

"The sensors on this aircraft had not yet been replaced," Paul-Louis Arslanian, director of France's Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses, said Saturday in a news conference.

But he emphasized that it was "far too early to conclude" that a malfunction of the sensors was to blame for the accident.

Air France issued a statement Saturday saying it began replacing the monitors on its A330s on April 27.

Airbus said it had informed air-safety regulators in Europe and North America about the recommendation to replace the part in 2007. But on Friday a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration was not able to confirm this, and said there were no plans to turn the recommendation into a requirement.

The key to finding the cause of the crash probably rests at the bottom of the ocean; the black boxes that are the data and voice recorders could be submerged in 3,000 to 13,000 feet of water and in rocky and muddy terrain.

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The boxes emit signals from a "pinger," but those will start to fade after 30 days. The French navy is sending a nuclear-powered submarine to the area in an effort to detect the signals.

The U.S. Navy will send two high-tech locating devices to French ships to help in finding the black boxes, a senior U.S. defense official told The Associated Press on Saturday. The gear is to be flown to Brazil on Monday with a U.S. Navy team.

Holding up a canister about the size of a cardboard toilet-paper roll, Arslanian said, "This is what we are looking for in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."

Without more physical clues, the investigation was focused on automated messages the plane sent out just before it disappeared, indicating wide systems failures. One message indicated incoherent speed readings.

Arslanian said the messages also showed the autopilot system was not engaged. He said the transmissions leave it unclear why.

Material from The Associated Press is used in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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