Le Bourget: A new EUR 10 million (USD 13.73 million) international search for the remains of Air France Flight 447 will begin in March, more than nine months after the passenger jet crashed in the Atlantic depths, France`s chief air accident investigator said on Wednesday.
The search plan — involving US and Norwegian ships, investigators and scientists — covers 770 square miles (2,000 square kms) of sea, said Jean-Paul Troadec, chief of the BEA investigation agency. He said the four-week search is the most expensive and biggest operation his agency has conducted and "one of the most complex undersea operations ever”.
Troadec said the first search efforts after the June 1 crash, which killed 228 people, "were not fruitful”.
"The investigation has stalled," he said, without further information from the crash site, including from the black box flight recorders that would provide crucial information on what went wrong. The black boxes have not been found.
"I think we have good chances" to find the black boxes, he said, a "largely above 50 percent" chance. But it will be tough, he added. "First we have to find the haystack, then we look for the needle."
The BEA chief said the search teams will start getting material together in the coming days, meet on the Brazilian coast, then head to the search zone in mid-March.
Families of victims of Air France Flight 447 have welcomed the new search effort.
John Clemes, whose brother died in the June 1 crash of the plane en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, says the search plan has "raised our hopes”. It was shared with the families on Wednesday before the BEA presented it at a news conference.
"Our one regret is that it took so long" to resume searching that was halted last summer, Clemes said.
Troadec said the search site includes depths of up to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet).
The new search will be jointly financed by Airbus and Air France, and comes after original search efforts last year that cost about EUR 9 million. The US Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board will help, along with accident experts from Britain, Germany, Russia and Brazil and private companies.
The life span of the so-called "pingers" attached to the black boxes is only about a month, but officials say submarines and boats equipped with sonar gear can find the wreckage from the Airbus 330 even without such signals.
Troadec was confident the black boxes have survived the impact of the crash and the long time under water. "If we find them, we should be capable of reading them," he said.
The second and most recent search for the black boxes ended in August.
Troadec said the new search can be extended if necessary after the initial four weeks. The ships will be equipped with four sonar devices and two underwater robots, and German, Brazilian, French and other experts will be involved in the search.
Automatic messages sent by the plane`s computers just before it crashed show it was receiving false air speed readings from sensors known as Pitot tubes. Experts have said running into a violent storm at either too slow or too fast a speed at high altitudes can be dangerous.
Investigators have insisted that the crash was likely caused by a series of failures and not just the Pitot tubes. Troadec would not comment further on the Pitots on Wednesday, saying the black boxes need to be found before any further conclusions are made.