France to launch new search for wreckage of Air France 447

February 4, 2011 - via Associated Press

Three REMUS 6000 vehicles will be utilized in the search for the wreckage of Air France Flight 447. The vehicles will use side scan sonar to map the ocean floor in long overlapping lanes, using a survey process known as “mowing the lawn.” After the data from large-scale surveys are analyzed and smaller fields of interest are identified, the REMUS 6000s can then gather more detailed, up-close images on subsequent dives using their high-resolution cameras. (Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)(Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

PARIS (AP) - French officials are preparing to launch a new search for the wreckage of Air France flight 447 in a bid to discover why the jet carrying 228 people plunged into the mid-Atlantic during a storm two years ago, killing all aboard.

Three advanced underwater robots will begin scouring the mountainous ocean depths between Brazil and western Africa in mid-March, looking for wreckage of the Airbus A330 that went down June 1, 2009 after running into an intense high altitude thunderstorm.

Air France and Airbus will finance the estimated $12.5 million cost of the new search, France's Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said Friday at a news conference. Already euro20 million ($27.5 million) has been spent on three previous search attempts that failed to find Flight 447's "black box" voice and data recorders. Without those, investigators may never learn why the plane crashed in a remote part of the ocean, in depths of up to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet).

France's transport ministry says the new search will use specialized submarines and underwater robots to search an area of about 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) for the wreckage of the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

The search zone in the mid-Atlantic contains "the most rugged mountains on the planet," said David Gallo, a director of special projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who will lead the new search. Only a small percentage of the area has ever been explored, making the search "very difficult," Gallo said.

The Remus 6000 underwater robots that will be used in the search "are the most advanced robotics in the world, and provide the best possibility of finding the wreckage," Gallo said. Only six of the devices exist in the world, and three are to be used to search for the wreckage, Gallo said.

"We have confidence that if the plane is in this area, we will find it," Gallo said. The Transport Ministry said in a statement Friday that search vehicles should be in place in the second half of March. The hunt is scheduled to last until July.

Automatic messages sent by the plane's computers just before it crashed show it was receiving false air speed readings from airplane sensors known as pitot tubes. Investigators have insisted that the crash was likely caused by a series of failures, and not just the tubes.

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Author:Greg Keller