Autopsies point to mid-air crash

Flight 447 broke up in the sky; strong windstream may have caused deaths

Autopsies point to mid-air crash

A Brazilian Navy diver stands on a piece of debris of the Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday. AP

Broken legs, hips and arms were found by Brazilian authorities on some of the 50 bodies recovered so far from the crash site in the Atlantic after flight 447 went down in a storm en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31 killing all 228 people on board.

The findings suggest the plane disintegrated at altitude and the force of the windstream may have killed the passengers. Forensic examiners also told Brazilian media that some of the bodies had no clothing and no signs of burns, evidence which is also consistent with a mid-air breakup.

The autopsy findings are an important development for French air accident investigators who are struggling to piece together the reasons for a disaster so far from land and in such deep water. Paul-Louis Arslanian, who runs the French air accident investigation agency BEA, said investigators are beginning to form “an image that is progressively less fuzzy,” but they faced “one of the worst situations ever known in an accident investigation.”

The black box recorders remain lost on the ocean floor and sonic detectors are being dragged on four-mile long cables beneath the sea to try to pick up their whereabouts.

Jack Casey, an aviation safety consultant in Washington, DC, who is a former accident investigator, said multiple fractures are consistent with a mid-air breakup of the plane, which was cruising at about 34,500 feet when it went down.

“Getting ejected into that kind of windstream is like hitting a brick wall even if they stay in their seats, it is a crushing effect,” he said. “Most of them were long dead before they hit the water would be my guess.” He added that their clothes would have been torn away by the wind.

“When a jet crashes into water largely intact such as the Egypt Air plane that hit the Atlantic Ocean after taking off from New York in 1999, debris and bodies are generally broken into small pieces,” said a forensic expert.

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