Flight crash mystery: Robots find Air France flight recorder but key memory part missing

The crash of Air France Flight 447 remains a mystery, but clues are being found

air france crash debris
Hopes that the ongoing undersea search of the Air France Flight 447 wreckage had yielded one of the key items investigators were looking for - the flight data recorder - were set back this week as the robot subs scouring the ocean floor found the box only to find its memory part missing.

The French investigation unit Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) managing the search said the chassis of the airplane's Flight Data Recorder  was found, though without the Crash Survivable Memory Unit  that contains the data. It was surrounded by debris from other parts of the airplane.  The box that records in-flight pilot conversations has not been found yet.

More: Underwater robots find airline wreckage, bodies

The BEA said it is searching for the memory unit as well as the other black box. It noted that new parts have been identified, such as the Auxiliary Power Unit which is located at the aft of the airplane. The forward and aft parts of the airplane are broken apart and mixed up, which means that a time-consuming systematic search is required, the BEA said.

Crash victim bodies to have been found but recovery operations won't likely take place until the black boxes are located and brought up.

Robotic subs from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are at the heart of the search investigators hope will go a long way towards solving the mystery of exactly why the plane crashed. The Air France plane was flying from Rio de Jeneiro to Paris, when it crashed into the ocean on June 1, 2009 taking with it 228 people.  Searchers had been unable to locate the aircraft in three attempts since then.

According to WHOI, the three REMUS 6000 autonomous undersea vehicles it is using in the search are designed to operate in depths up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet or 3.73 miles). As each vehicle covers an area in a "mowing" pattern, it employs side-scan sonar to survey up to 600 meters to its left and right. Capable of staying underwater for up to 20 hours at a time, REMUS then returns to the ship, where scientists download its data. If the data contains evidence of any debris or other items of interest undersea, a REMUS 6000 will be dispatched to gather more detailed, up-close images using high-resolution cameras located on the bottom of the vehicle, the group stated.

BEA continues to update its Website about the progress of the search.

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