Pictures from the bottom of the ocean give hope to grieving Irish families that their loved ones' bodies will be found
Published 05/04/2011 | 05:00
THE father of one of three young Irish doctors who perished in a plane crash told how he and his family were anxiously awaiting news last night after the wreckage was discovered.
The French government confirmed yesterday that the bodies of some passengers who died when an Air France plane crashed off Brazil in 2009 have been discovered, along with parts of the wreckage.
Operations to recover the wreckage and the bodies will begin in about three weeks.
Three young Irish doctors died in the accident -- Dr Jane Deasy (27), from Rathgar, Co Dublin; Dr Aisling Butler (26), from Roscrea, Co Tipperary; and Dr Eithne Walls (28), from Ballygowan, Co Down.
The body of Dr Deasy was recovered during one of the search operations, but the bodies of Dr Butler and Dr Walls have not yet been found.
Air France Flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic en route from Rio to Paris on May 31, 2009, killing all 228 passengers and crew on board.
The three Irish friends were returning from a holiday in Brazil when the aircraft went missing.
France's BEA accident investigation authority said yesterday that it had found a large part of the plane's wreckage, including the engine and parts of the fuselage.
Remus robot submarines found and photographed "a large section" of wreckage close to the aircraft's last known position, 700 miles north-east of Brazil.
The submarines were part of an elaborate salvage operation -- said to be the most sophisticated ocean search of its kind attempted.
The French government said it was confident the plane's two flight recorders would be found soon.
The country's environment minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, said there were bodies inside, some still strapped into their seats.
Three previous searches, which cost Air France and Airbus more than €22m, came to nothing.
The fourth, led by the search ship Aluci, which is equipped with the robot submarines, began a few days ago.
"There are bodies visible in the remains of the plane," Ms Kosciusko-Morizet said.
"The plane did not completely disintegrate. There is a large part of the passenger cabin and bodies can be seen. . . identification should be possible."
The aircraft flew into stormy weather about three hours after leaving Rio. Details of the flight recorded remotely in France suggested that there might have been a malfunction of the plane's "pitot tubes", or speed recorders.
It is understood the Irish families were informed of the discovery at 11pm on Sunday.
Dr Butler's father John, a well-known businessman originally from Co Limerick, said last night the family were too upset to talk and were "just doing their best to get through the day" as they anxiously awaited news.
Searches have so far failed to find flight recorders that could give clues to the cause of the incident.
However, the discovery of the chunks of the wreckage in a vast search radius of some 10,000sq km has raised hopes that the flight recorders might now also be found.
Speculation about what caused the accident has focused on the possible icing up of the aircraft's speed sensors, which seemed to give inconsistent readings before communication was lost.
France's transport minister, Thierry Mariani, said victims' families would be informed of the findings at a meeting at the end of the week and no further details would be made public before then.
The two ministers said they could not yet quantify the number of bodies captured on photographs by the unmanned submarines.
The recovery operations could last for up to four weeks.