Autopsy results suggest Air France jet broke up in mid air

By Calvin Palmer

Autopsies on the bodies of passengers aboard the ill-fated Air France jet have revealed multiple fractures that lend weight to the theory that the Airbus A330-200 broke up in mid flight.

Fifty bodies of the 228 passengers aboard flight AF 447 have been recovered along with more than 400 pieces of debris. The location of the bodies being 50 miles apart also suggests the aircraft broke up in mid air.

Head of the French air accident investigation agency, BEA, Paul-Louis Arslanian said investigators are starting to form “an image that is progressively less fuzzy”.

“We are in a situation that is a bit more favorable than the first days,” Arslanian said. “We can say there is a little less uncertainty, so there is a little more optimism but it is premature, for the time being, to say what happened.”

He urged the public to show “a lot of patience” while the search continued in “unfavourable conditions”.

Brazilian medical examiners have found multiple fractures in the bodies so far recovered.

“Typically, if you see intact bodies and multiple fractures — arm, leg, hip fractures — it’s a good indicator of a mid flight break up,” said Frank Ciacco, a former forensic expert at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. “Especially if you’re seeing large pieces of aircraft as well.”

Brazil’s O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper also reported that some victims were found with little or no clothing, and had no signs of burns.

That lack of clothing could be significant, said Jack Casey, an aviation safety consultant in Washington, D.C., who is a former accident investigator. “In an in-air break up like we are supposing here, the clothes are just torn away.”

Casey also 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 wind stream is like hitting a brick wall — even if they stay in their seats, it is a crushing effect,” Casey said. “Most of them were long dead before they hit the water would be my guess.”

But the lack of burn evidence would not necessarily rule out an explosion, said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

If something caused the lower fuselage to burn or explode, “passengers would not be exposed to any blast damage” and the plane would still disintegrate in flight,” Goglia said. “These are scenarios that cannot be ruled out.”

Meanwhile the search continues for more wreckage and the black boxes from flight AF 447, which crashed on May 31 after running into thunderstorms en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

Homing signals from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are being sought by the Brazilian military, a French nuclear submarine and Dutch ships towing two hi-tech U.S. Navy listening devices.

The signals will fade within two weeks.

Nelson Jobim, Brazil’s defense minister, said the French would continue searching and helping to identify the bodies, but the entire identification process would take place in Brazil “to avoid double autopsies, which would be a horrible thing for the families”.

The BEA yesterday said it regretted its medical experts had not being authorized to take part in the autopsies with their Brazilian counterparts.

[Based on reports by the Associated Press and The Daily Telegraph.]

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