Air France 447: Flight Box Recorders Could Unlock Crash Mystery

Flight recorders may hold key to mysterious crash that killed 228 people.

May 12, 2011— -- Authorities may be a step closer to unlocking the cause of a 2009 Air France crash after two flight box recorders recovered from deep beneath the sea arrived in France this morning.

Air France flight 447 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31, 2009 when the Airbus A330 jet when down in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 people aboard.

Its last known communication was about four hours into the flight.

Officials are now investigating whether they can extract information from the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

"If the card is in good shape it can be read in a couple hours," Christophe Menez with BEA's engineering department told the Associated Press.

Mendez said it's unclear what the timeline would be if the memory cards were damaged.

Before the crash, the pilot had sent an electronic text message to the airline to say that the plane was heading to an area known for stormy weather - Intertropical Convergence Zone.

About 24 automated messages during four minutes were sent from the plane before it disappeared from radar. The messages recorded system failures and variable speed readings.

Last month, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered the plane's wreckage using remote underwater submarines some four kilometers deep.

"Overall feelings were bittersweet. We were happy we had found it, and a little sad that we were witnessing this tragedy," said Mike Purcell, senior research engineer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Of those who died, 51 bodies were found following the crash but 177 bodies are still missing.

Two bodies were brought to the surface and the remains are in a lab to determine if officials can extract DNA from them, officials said at Thursday news conference.

If no DNA can be pulled, other bodies will remain at the bottom of the sea, officials said.

Authorities said recovering the bodies took three hours to go down and up from the ocean.

Crash Theories

Since the crash, several theories have emerged on what brought down the jet liner including problems with the plane's speed sensors called pitot tubes - which officials believe may have malfunctioned.

"We cannot, however, assume any link between the sensors and the causes of the accident," Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, Air France-KLM managing director, said in 2009.

Reports of possible terrorism emerged after passengers on board the flight had the same names as radical Muslims on a watch list in France. But officials since then have discounted that as a possible cause.

ABC News' Lisa Stark, Cindy E. Rodriguez, Christophe Schpoliansky and the Associated Press contributed to this report.