Guide to Air France 447: Facts, Rumors and Where Things Stand

A plane carrying 228 people falls out of the sky in the middle of the night hundreds of miles out to sea.

It's a major puzzle that will take months and months to piece together. It's a massive search effort in a remote location. Virtually no hypothesis or theory about what happened is off the table.

VIDEO: The key to understanding why the plane went down might never be found.
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In this relatively early phase of the investigation into what happened on Air France Flight 447, here's a look at where things stand.

Where the Search Stands

Hunting for black boxes: T minus 18 days. The pinging sounds coming from the black boxes are estimated to last 30 days from the time of the crash, so the clock is ticking.

A French nuclear sub, the Emeraude, equipped with high-tech sonar equipment, is at the crash site listening for the acoustics coming from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

Scheduled to arrive Friday is a French research vessel called the Pourquoi Pas, the only vessel in the French arsenal that carries underwater robots to retrieve the black boxes if their signals are detected.

A U.S. Navy underwater listening device that can pick up the pinging sound from the black boxes at depths of 20,000 feet is also expected in the water Sunday.

Debris and remains: Crash remnants already pulled out of the Atlantic have been flown to the island of Fernando de Noronha, the closest land to the crash site, some 400 miles off Brazil's coast.

The bodies recovered will be analyzed on the island, then transported to the mainland town of Recife this weekend for further identification and forensic exams.

Number of bodies recovered: 41

Major debris recovered: A large chunk of the stabilizer from the plane's tail, wiring, an airline seat, a boarding pass from the flight.

How long the search will last: At least until June 19, according to the Brazilian Air Force.

Ocean currents and wind now play a part in recovery efforts because the crash happened more than a week ago. The Brazilian Air Force is calculating that ocean currents are carrying bodies north. The U.S. Coast Guard is helping map the debris field and tracing backwards to help locate the crash location.

Assessing the plane's automated messages: Out of the water, investigators are gleaning clues from the 24 automated messages sent from the plane to Air France over a period of four minutes before it crashed.

See ABC News photo gallery of the search effort here.

Watch ABC News Video on the Crash:
Air France Crash Questions Sensor Safety (June 9, 2009)
Search Intensifies for Black Boxes (June 8, 2009)
Plane Disappears Off Radar (June 1, 2009)

Read ABC News Stories on the Crash:
French Sub Joins Black Box Search (June 10, 2009)
Carriers Rush to Replace Speed Sensors (June 9, 2009)
Jet's Tail Could Lead to Answers (June 8, 2009)
Air France Official: 'We Can Fear The Worst' (June 1, 2009)

Air France 447: A Guide to the Tragic Crash

The Status of Possible Causes and Problems

"There is never, ever, just once cause to an airline accident," said ABC News aviation consultant John Nance. "Never has been, never will be."

Speed speculation: On Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported that there is "still no established link" between the plane's speed sensors, called pitot tubes, and the crash, according to a spokeswoman for the Bureau Enquetes Analyses, France's equivalent of the National Transportation Safety Board.

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