A Brazilian Air Force helicopter prepares to land after taking part in the searching mission of the Air France flight 447, in Fernando de Noronha, 350 kms off the coast of Natal, in northeastern Brazil, Tuesday, June 2, 2009.[Agencies]
FERNANDO DE NORONHA, Brazil – An airplane seat, a fuel slick and pieces of white debris scattered over three miles of open ocean marked the site in the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday where Air France Flight 447 plunged to its doom, Brazil's defense minister said.
Brazilian military pilots spotted the wreckage, sad reminders bobbing on waves, in the ocean 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of these islands off Brazil's coast. The plane carrying 228 people vanished Sunday about four hours into its flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
"I can confirm that the five kilometers of debris are those of the Air France plane," Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told reporters at a hushed news conference in Rio. He said no bodies had been found and there was no sign of life.
The effort to recover the debris and locate the all-important black box recorders, which emit signals for only 30 days, is expected to be exceedingly challenging.
"We are in a race against the clock in extremely difficult weather conditions and in a zone where depths reach up to 7,000 meters (22,966 feet)," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told lawmakers in parliament Tuesday.
Brazilian military pilots first spotted the floating debris early Tuesday in two areas about 35 miles (60 kilometers) apart, said Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral. The area is not far off the flight path of Flight 447.
Jobim said the main debris field was found near where the initial signs were spotted.
The cause of the crash will not be known until the black boxes are recovered — which could take days or weeks. But weather and aviation experts are focusing on the possibility of a collision with a brutal storm that sent winds of 100 mph (160 km/h) straight into the airliner's path.