Air France: Where Things Stand as Black Box Signals Fade

It's been nearly four weeks since Air France flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean enroute to Paris from Rio de Janeiro. Search teams are now racing against the clock to find the most vital clues to the crash -- the plane's black boxes -- before their signals fade.

At the same time, the National Transportation Safety Board this week is investigating two other incidents involving Airbus A330 planes like the one that crashed. The safety board wants to learn more about reported problems with airspeed and altitude information. It's known there were faulty airspeed readings on the Air France flight before the accident, and that's been a focus of the investigation.

Here's the latest on where things stand:

Evidence Recovered:
50 bodies. The body of the pilot and that of a flight attendant are among those that were identified this week.

Hundreds of pieces of debris. A large chunk of the stabilizer from the plane's tail, wiring, an airline seat, a boarding pass, personal belongings.

Evidence Not Recovered:
The two most important clues to the mystery -- the flight data recorder and cockpit recorder -- known as the plane's black boxes. Their batteries are required to last 30 days from the time of the crash. It's already been 26.

The Hunt for the Black Boxes:
Earlier this week there were reports that sounds heard underwater were coming from the black boxes. But France's investigation bureau issued a statement Tuesday saying "no signals transmitted by the flight recorders' locator beacons have been validated up to now."

The company that makes the black boxes say they could emit pinging sounds a little bit longer than 30 days, but will eventually fade out. France's investigation bureau is hopeful they black boxes will continue to transmit signals beyond that time frame and will continue the underwater search "as long as there will be a reasonable effort."

The world's best teams and equipment are in the remote Atlantic Ocean trying to detect the signals. The French nuclear sub Emeraude, equipped with high-tech sonar equipment, is listening for the acoustics, as is a U.S. Navy underwater listening device that can pick up the pinging sound from the black boxes at depths of 20,000 feet. A French research vessel, the Pourquoi Pas, is on hand with underwater robots to retrieve the black boxes if the signals are heard.

Latest Analysis of the Evidence:
This week investigators said they'd identified about more than a dozen of the 50 bodies recovered.

Autopsies on the bodies being examined reveal multiple fractures of passengers' legs, hips and arms. The evidence indicates the plane may have come part in the air as opposed to breaking apart when it hit the water.

Large pieces of the plane collected also indicate a midair breakup.

Experts also say bodies are not burned, which suggests there was not an explosion. But they also say that while the bodies may provide clues, it's unlikely they will indicate the probable cause of the crash on their own.

Crash remnants pulled out of the Atlantic were flown to the island of Fernando de Noronha, the closest land to the crash site, some 400 miles off Brazil's coast. From there they are being transported to the mainland town of Recife for further analysis. The tail stabilizer of the plane, a huge piece of evidence, arrived in Recife June 14.

A French technician in Recife is analyzing the evidence and will determine whether debris will be taken to France or evaluated in Brazil.

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