The search for bodies and remnants of a lost Air France airliner enters its third and possibly final week Monday with the focus now on locating the "black box" recorders that could hold the key to its plunge into the Atlantic.
The fate of flight AF 447, which vanished on the night of May 31 to June 1 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, has not been explained though data indicating the presence of defective speed sensors raised the first alerts of a crash.
But on Sunday, EADS, the mother company of the aircraft's builder Airbus, called for "prudence."
"It's the convergence of different causes that led to such an accident," said Louis Gallois, EADS president and chief executive, on the eve of the Paris air show at Bourget.
"We do not know whether the Pitot tubes (the sensors that measure airspeed) played a role in the accident. No one knows," Gallois said.
Air France and France's Bureau of Investigations and Analyses, BEA, which is in charge of the investigation, have also refused to link the crash to the Pitot sensors.
The company, however, has acclerated replacement of the sensors on its Airbus A330-A340 aircraft, under pressure from pilots and after several incidents in 2008 were linked to airspeed sensor malfunctions.
As of Saturday night, the Brazilian and French navies had recovered 49 bodies as well as pieces of the aircraft, including a large fragment of its tail.
Most of the bodies have been transported to Recife, on Brazil's northeastern coast, where a team of doctors is examining them to establish their identities.
Laid out in an enormous hangar at the Recife air base, the pieces of the aircraft indicate that its descent was sudden and that it was not caused by an explosion on board, according to experts consulted by the Brazilian press.
These opinions are supported by a photograph that shows seats reserved for the crew folded up, suggesting that crew members were taken by suprise by the disaster.
Among the 228 victims were people of 32 nationalities, including 72 French nationals, 59 Brazilians and 26 Germans.
The French government's special emissary, Pierre-Jean Vandoorne, met with relatives of the victims Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.
"Their principal concern is to recover the bodies and understand the causes of the catastrophe," Vandoorne told AFP. He was scheduled to meet Sunday in Recife with the Brazilian military officials in charge of the search.
For the past two weeks, a French-Brazilian flotilla has been combing an enormous expanse of the high seas 1,350 kilometers (810 miles) from Recife.
However, even though sailors initially reported that they were navigating through "a sea of (aircraft) pieces," sightings of debris have become rare, possibly because they sink or are dispersed by the currents.
The Brazilian military has begun talking about an end to the search, with Brigadier Ramon Cardoso saying it will continue "at least until June 19." A reassessment will be made on June 17, he said.
Meanwhile, the search for the two "black boxes," which may be on the ocean floor at a depth of 3,500 meters (10,500 feet), should intensify.
The French nuclear submarine "Emeraude" already has begun patrolling the area where the plane went down in hopes that its ultrasensitive sonars will pick up signals emitted by the flight recorders.
The French underwater exploration vessel "Pourquoi pas" also arrived in the area of the search with a submarine and a robot.
Source: AFP Global Edition