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17 more victims' bodies pulled from the sea

With 41 recovered, officials in Brazil and France prepared for making IDs. Interpol is helping.

RECIFE, Brazil - The bodies of 17 more victims of Air France Flight 447 were pulled from the Atlantic Ocean yesterday, bringing the number recovered to 41. The first remains were brought to land by helicopter and will be flown to this coastal city today for identification.

Federal police began visiting families in Rio de Janeiro, where the Paris-bound flight originated, to collect genetic material - hair, blood, a cheek swab - that could help identify the bodies.

And Interpol sent an agent to Paris to coordinate identification work by a French team, which is using forensic evidence including fingerprints and dental records.

The Airbus A330-200 was carrying 228 people of various nationalities when it plunged into the sea May 31.

Figuring out where the victims were seated and studying their injuries might help explain what brought down Flight 447 as it flew into thunderstorms, according to Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

With the jet's data recorders still missing, investigators have been focusing on the possibility that external speed monitors - called Pitot tubes - iced over and gave false readings to the jet's computers in a thunderstorm.

A key part of the investigation relies on a burst of 24 automatic messages the jet sent during its last minutes. The signals showed that the autopilot was not on, officials said, but it was unclear whether it had been switched off by Flight 447's pilots or had stopped working because of conflicting airspeed readings.

The L-shaped metal Pitot tubes jut from a plane's wing or fuselage and are usually heated to prevent icing. The pressure of air entering the tubes lets sensors measure the speed and angle of flight. A malfunctioning tube could mislead computers controlling the plane to dangerously accelerate or decelerate.

Air France said it began replacing the Pitot tubes on its A330 and A340 jets in May after pilots reported several incidents of icing leading to a loss of airspeed data. It said it already replaced the Pitots in smaller A320 jets after similar problems were reported.

The Pitots had not been replaced on the doomed A330.

Yesterday, Air France assured its pilots that none of its A330s or A340s would fly without at least two of the new instruments, and that all would have all three Pitots replaced by July.

About 70 airlines operate about 600 A330s similar to the doomed Air France jet, and two companies make the Pitot tubes for them: France's Thales Group, and Goodrich Corp. of Charlotte, N.C.

Thales made the Pitot tubes on the jet that crashed, company spokeswoman Caroline Philips confirmed.

Some major airlines - including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Delta's Northwest Airlines subsidiary, and US Airways - said they were upgrading the devices on their Airbus planes, according to the manufacturer's recommendation, and warning pilots in the meantime.

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said her airline was reiterating to flight crews "the correct procedures to be used in the event of unreliable airspeed indications."