In an astonishing overnight development in the investigation into the crash of Air France Flight 447, authorities are now saying that debris initially thought to be wreckage from the jet does not in fact belong to the plane.
On Tuesday the Brazilian Air Force spotted and retrieved an item from an area of the Atlantic thought to be roughly where the plane went down, and tentatively identified it as having come from the Airbus A330 that has been missing since late Sunday night.
But on Thursday night the Air Force reversed course and said that further investigation revealed that the 8-foot-long wooden luggage pallet did not in fact come from Flight 447.
The plane was reportedly not carrying any luggage pallets and the item is now thought to be sea garbage.
An Air Force commander said that oil slick sighted on the ocean’s surface also did not come from the plane, though he was optimistic that some kerosene found at the scene may be from the jet’s fuel tanks.
Air Force searchers did spot other items in the water at the time they retrieved the luggage pallet on Tuesday, but they did not immediately retrieve them because they were reportedly focused on searching for survivors of the crash.
Teams of investigators are now doubling back to the debris field to retrieve more items which they say are likely from the Air France jet. Those items include life jackets, seats, buoys, and other emergency equipment.
The setback means that authorities are no closer to figuring out what happened to the doomed jet than they were five days ago when it presumably fell from the sky.
Air France Flight 447 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it disappeared over the Atlantic in an area between the northeast coast of Brazil and the west coast of Africa. It was carrying 228 passengers and crew.
Many aviation experts have theorized that lightning, terrorism, bad weather, or pilot error may have brought the plane down and killed all onboard, but Air France refuses to speculate on the cause at this point due to the dearth of definitive information.
However this knowledge void has not stopped Air France from issuing a reminder to pilots of the proper procedure for flying aircraft when air speed and pressure sensors are sending conflicting messages. They also began replacing these sensors on certain planes.
The reminder was prompted by data messages that came from the plane immediately before it disappeared, which indicated an inconsistency between different measured airspeeds.
Air France investigators think the pilots may have reacted incorrectly to the divergent readings by speeding up or slowing down, either of which could have caused the plane to lose control in the severe storm conditions it was flying in.
The sensors that are being replaced are called Pitot tubes. The L-shaped metal tubes protrude from the wing or fuselage of a plane and are heated to prevent the device freezing. However, if they get blocked by foreign objects or if the heater malfunctions, the sensors could provide faulty readings to the flight crew.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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