Second Air France Black Box Found

The find by a robot submarine could be a breakthrough in the investigation into the mysterious 2009 plane crash.

THE GIST

- A robot submarine has retrieved the second black box data recorder from an Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009.

- The recorder is in "good condition," according to France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis.

- The search for the wreck and the black boxes has taken 23 months and cost $52 million so far.

A robot submarine has retrieved the second black box data recorder from an Air France plane that crashed mysteriously into the Atlantic in 2009 en route from Rio to Paris, killing all 228 people on board.

"The investigation team localized and identified the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) at 2150 UTC (GMT) on Monday, May 2, 2011," France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) said in a statement.

The recorder which investigators hope will shed light on the flight's final moments, was "in good condition," BEA chief Jean-Paul Troadec told AFP, adding: "The chassis, the module and even the underwater locator beacon is there."

"It was raised and lifted on board the ship Ile de Sein" by a submersible robot early on Tuesday, the statement said.

The find by the robot submarine could be a breakthrough in the investigation into the disaster, as the boxes may hold crucial data that could enable BEA investigators to determine the cause of the crash.

The first black box was recovered on Sunday, after a search that has already taken 23 months and cost 35 million euros ($52 million).

"This second success ... confirms that the means mobilized were necessary to shed all light on this drama despite the complexity of this enquiry," said French secretary of state for transport Thierry Mariani.

Air France-KLM boss Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said the recovery of the data recorders "justifies the unprecedented means deployed by the government, Airbus and Air France."

Like the first black box, the second will be placed in a box full of water in order to keep it as much as possible in its current state.

It will then be taken to BEA laboratories at Bourget near Paris where the analysis will begin in around eight days.

"If we can read the two recorders, we'll manage to understand what happened," Toradec said. That will depend on how much of the data has been corroded.

If data is damaged, that will make its recovery more difficult and slow but not necessarily impossible.

The Airbus A330 plunged into the Atlantic while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009.

Investigators announced they had found the main wreckage in early April on the fourth and final attempt.

The official cause of the disaster remains uncertain, but the crash has been partly blamed on malfunctioning speed sensors used by Airbus.

Air France has been accused of not responding quickly enough to reports that they might be faulty.

The head of French pilot's union SNPL, Jean-Louis Barber, said that the main priority was to find out why the plane crashed.

Pilots "want these black boxes to be able to speak, for the bereaved families, for Air France and for the entire aeronautical community so that such a tragedy is not repeated," Barber said.

Investigators and Airbus remained cautious, stressing that without the black boxes the riddle of the plane's last moments might never be solved.

Air France and Airbus are being probed for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, the deadliest in the carrier's history.

Troadec said that black boxes were finally found within around 10 meters (yards) of each other on the seabed.

Other parts of the doomed plane's fuselage -- "all the pieces they would like to bring to the surface," Troadec said -- have now been identified and they will "very shortly" start being fished out.

"The operation will be very delicate," he said.

Only around 50 bodies were recovered from the ocean at the time of the crash, and French officials have said that many bodies are visible within the fuselage on the seabed.

"We're waiting to know when the first attempts to bring the bodies to the surface will take place," said Jean-Baptiste Audousset, who heads an association for relatives of the victims.