FERNANDO DE NORONHA, Brazil – Military planes located new debris from Air France Flight 447 on Wednesday while investigators focused on a nightmarish ordeal in which the jet broke up over the Atlantic as it flew through a violent storm.
Heavy weather delayed until next week the arrival of deep-water submersibles considered key to finding the black box voice and data recorders that will help answer the question of what happened to the airliner, which disappeared Sunday with 228 people on board. But even with the equipment, the lead French investigator questioned whether the recorders would ever be found in such a deep and rugged part of the ocean.
As the first Brazilian military ships neared the search area, investigators were relying heavily on the plane’s automated messages to help reconstruct what happened to the jet as it flew through towering thunderstorms. They detail a series of failures that end with its systems shutting down, suggesting the plane broke apart in the sky, according to an aviation industry official with knowledge of the investigation.
“This clearly looks like the story of the airplane coming apart,” the airline industry official told the Associated Press. “We just don’t know why it did, but that is what the investigation will show.”
French and Brazilian officials had already announced some of these details, but the more complete chronology was published Wednesday by Brazil’s O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, citing an unidentified airline source, and confirmed by the aviation industry source.
Other experts agreed that the automatic reports of system failures on the plane strongly suggest it broke up in the air, perhaps due to fierce thunderstorms, turbulence, lightning or a catastrophic combination of events.
One fear – terrorism – was dismissed Wednesday by all three countries involved in the search and recovery effort. France’s defense minister and the Pentagon said there were no signs that terrorism was involved, and Brazil’s defense minister said “that possibility hasn’t even been considered.”