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AF 447 may have come apart before crash: experts

TimePublished on Wed, Jun 03, 2009 at 08:18, Updated on Wed, Jun 03, 2009 at 09:07 in World section

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"They may have been sitting there thinking we can weave our way through this stuff," Meldahl said. "If they were trying to lace their way in and out of these things, they could have been caught by an updraft."

The same violent weather that might have led to the crash also could impede recovery efforts.

"Anyone who is going there to try to salvage this airplane within the next couple of months will have to deal with these big thunderstorms coming through on an almost daily basis," Margusity said. "You're talking about a monumental salvage effort."

Remotely controlled submersible crafts will have to be used to recover wreckage settling so far beneath the ocean's surface. France dispatched a research ship equipped with unmanned submarines that can explore as deeply as 19,600 feet (6,000 meters).

A US Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane — which can fly low over the ocean for 12 hours at a time and has radar and sonar designed to track submarines underwater — and a French AWACS radar plane are joining the operation.

France also has three military patrol aircraft flying over the central Atlantic, two commercial ships reached the floating debris, and Brazilian navy ships were en route.

Even at great underwater pressure, the black boxes "can survive indefinitely almost," said Bill Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.

"They're very rugged and sophisticated, virtually indestructible."

Voss said he expected the recovery process to go quickly.

"I'm hoping they'll have stuff up in a month, if not just a few weeks," he said.

Rescuers were still scanning a vast sweep of ocean. If no survivors are found, it would be the world's worst civil aviation disaster since the November 2001 crash of an American Airlines jetliner in the New York City borough of Queens that killed 265 people.

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