'Ocean of Debris' Found at Air France 447 Crash Site

Debris surrounds divers recovering wreckage from Air France flight 447.

ByABC News
June 8, 2009, 7:25 AM

June 8, 2009 — -- An "ocean of debris" now surrounds divers recovering wreckage and bodies from Air France flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean, and searchers today recovered the stabilizer from the plane's tail, according to the Brazilian Navy.

It's still unclear if the jet broke up in the air, or on impact. Former crash investigator Gregory Feith says they may be able to tell from the tail.

"If it's on the backside or the furthest up the debris chain, then there's a high probability that could have been one of the first components that came off the airplane," said Feith.

Investigators are looking into whether faulty speed sensors played a role. Airbus had recommended changing the sensors because of reliability issues, and Air France had noticed sensors icing up on some flights. Faulty speed readings can cause the jet to fly dangerously slow or fast.

Much of the focus remains on those speed sensors because Air France said it was in the process of replacing them after seeing them freeze up and malfunction on other flights. The sensors had not yet been changed on flight 447.

Delta and USAirways, two airlines that operate Airbus jets, told ABC News today that they are replacing their speed sensors as a precaution.

Brazilian military authorities say boats searching the Atlantic Ocean have now recovered 24 bodies of passengers on an Air France flight that crashed eight days ago.

Five vessels are surrounded by airplane seats, fuselage, wire, television monitors, oxygen masks and personal belongings littered in an area more than 8,000 feet deep.

The first of the bodies and debris pulled from the Atlantic Ocean this weekend should arrive back on shore today, where investigators will begin to get a better picture of what happened on Air France flight 447.

The evidence will be flown to the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, some 400 miles off the country's coast. A little more than a week after the flight crashed with 228 people onboard en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, the hunt for clues is picking up pace.

Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" Tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.

Searchers are scouring an area 45 miles from where plane last sent a burst of messages. They'll look for more evidence from the plane crash, including additional bodies and pieces of the plane. In the grim recovery effort, human remains will provide clues about what may have gone wrong.

Frank Ciaccio, who supervised wreckage recovery for Egypt Air and other underwater accidents while working for the National Transportation Safety Board, said full forensic examinations are "not going to solve all the answers," but can still provide crucial information.

"Identifying them is going to be the No. 1 priority," said Ciaccio, forensics specialist and vice president of commercial services for Kenyon International Disaster Management Services. "No. 2 priority is going to be to document any injuries the body sustains so that they can add to the investigation, and help with putting a final picture together."

"It's not going to solve why this plane went down, but it'll give something back to the family members that do find their loved ones right now, and it'll give some hope to the other ones that hopefully they will be able to recover more of their loved ones," he added.

In his weekly radio program today, Brazil's president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, "We will do whatever is within our reach, together with the Air Force and the Navy, to find everything we possibly can. And, above all, the bodies, because in this moment of grief, even though that will not solve the problem, it will be immensely comforting to the families to know that they are burying their loved ones."