RECIFE, Brazil - Search ships methodically worked through a "sea of debris" from a doomed Air France jet yesterday, recovering 15 more bodies near the spot where the Airbus A330 is believed to have gone down a week ago.
Two bodies were recovered Saturday, and Brazilian and French ships picked up 15 more yesterday after pilots participating in a grid search reported additional sightings. The bodies have been found in an area about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from where the jet sent out messages signaling electrical failures and loss of cabin pressure.
"We're navigating through a sea of debris," Brazilian Navy Capt. Giucemar Tabosa Cardoso said.
Brazil's military was not releasing detailed information about bodies or debris that have been seen from the air but not taken aboard ships, after sea trash was mistaken last week for a cargo pallet from the plane, prompting criticism.
Flight 447 disappeared and likely broke up in midair in turbulent weather May 31 during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people aboard - all now presumed dead.
The investigation is focusing on whether external instruments on the Airbus A330 may have iced over, confusing speed sensors and leading computers to set the plane's speed too fast or slow - a potentially deadly mistake.
The French agency investigating the disaster said airspeed instruments on the plane had not been replaced as the maker had recommended, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions about what role that may have played in the crash.
The agency, BEA, said the plane received inconsistent airspeed readings from different instruments as it struggled in a massive thunderstorm.
France is leading the investigation into the cause of the crash, and will try to recover the plane's black-box data and voice recorders, which could reveal why the jet crashed. Brazilian officials are focusing solely on the recovery of victims and plane wreckage.
In Brazil, Air Force Col. Henry Munhoz said nine bodies have been recovered by Brazilian authorities: four men, four women and one that was impossible to identify by gender. He said he did not have information about the genders of the eight bodies recovered by French military helicopters that were transferred to a French ship.
The search is focusing on a zone of several hundred square miles roughly 400 miles northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast.
Munhoz and Cardoso declined comment on the condition of the recovered bodies, saying that information would be too emotionally painful for relatives.
Authorities also announced that searchers spotted two airplane seats, debris with Air France's logo, and recovered dozens of structural components from the plane. They had already recovered wing fragments.
Munhoz said there is "no more doubt" that the wreckage is from Flight 447 following the confusion that broke out with the wooden pallet that turned out not to be from the jet.
Hundreds of personal items belonging to the passengers have been recovered, but Munhoz said authorities would not immediately identify them because relatives of the victims were devastated by an announcement Saturday that a laptop computer and briefcase containing a plane ticket had been found.
"We don't want to cause them more suffering," Munhoz said.
The bodies and wreckage should arrive tomorrow at the Brazilian islands of Fernando de Noronha, where the military has set up a staging post for the search operation.
From there, remains and debris will be taken to the northeastern coastal city of Recife for identification.
Brazilian authorities have refused since the search began to release precise coordinates where they are looking, except to say the area lies southeast of the last jet transmission and could have indicated the pilot was trying to turn around in mid-flight and head to Fernando de Noronha.
The Pentagon has said there are no signs of terrorism.
Brazil's defense minister said the possibility was never considered.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner agreed that there is no evidence supporting a "terrorism theory," but said "we cannot discard that for now." *