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Current as of 19/09/14 07:40PM NZST

Air NZ crash: Damaged black box will give answers - investigator

By Catherine Field

A senior accident investigator in France has dismissed claims one of the black boxes recovered from the wreck of the Air New Zealand Airbus A320 which came down in the Mediterranean last week is too damaged to yield useful results.

Salvage teams overnight defied predictions that foul weather would hamper recovery operations and recovered a third body and the second black box recorder from the wreckage of the plane.

The third body was recovered near the cockpit of the plane which now sits in mud 40 metres below the surface. Two bodies were recovered in the hours immediately after the accident, a further four are missing presumed dead.

The body will be transferred to the Institute of Forensic Research at Montpellier for DNA comparison and autopsy.

The black boxes are being sent to their manufacturer in North America for analysis.

French judicial investigators announced today that the second black box recorder, the Digital Flight Data Recorder containing technical records of the craft including speed, altitude and trajectory was brought to the surface late Sunday afternoon.

Perpignan state prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno told reporters that the other black box, a cockpit voice recorder recovered last week, had been so badly damaged that it was unlikely to yield much insight.

However a member of the multi-national investigating team has contradicted Dreno's remarks. The black boxes are tested at such length and such extremes, he told the Herald, that it is extremely rare for absolutely no data to be extracted from them.

The source, a senior accident investigator with decades of experience, said he knew of only one or two incidents when the memory cartridges have been compromised.

He added that no matter how minute the piece of data extracted from the black box, it all adds to the jigsaw puzzle that is solved when the final story of the crash is put together.

Air New Zealand's Ed Sims said the past 12 hours have seen many developments in France.

"It has been an extremely moving day for the next of kin who have travelled to France and our own people on site," he said.

"Our lost men were remembered in a ceremony on the beach at Perpignan before the families went on boats to the site of the accident to pay their respects. Obviously, it was an extremely moving time for everyone and many tears and much emotion was shared."

The airline's own haka was performed at the accident site by Cultural Ambassador Andrew Baker.

"Also during the day divers have located the cockpit and found a body nearby. The flight data recorder was also retrieved and it is now clear both it and the cockpit voice recorder have been badly damaged. These will be sent to manufacturer Honeywell in North America to determine what data can be extracted," Mr Sims said.

He said French authorities have made it clear that they intend to continue the search and recovery operation until all bodies are found.

"We cannot speak highly enough of the French authorities and the efforts they are putting into this operation. Although it is now night time in France, divers continue their search and despite a deteriorating forecast will continue to do so over the next few days."

However, state prosecutor Dreno told French radio the search would only continue until the weekend.

Seven men including five New Zealanders were killed when the A320 jet crashed into the Mediterranean on Friday off the coast of Perpignan.

Air New Zealand pilot Captain Brian Horrell, 52, and engineers Murray White, 37, Michael Gyles, 49, and Noel Marsh, 35 and well as Civil Aviation Authority official Jeremy Cook, 58, were killed in the crash.

The plane was being flown by two German pilots from XL Airlines. The airline, which had leased the Airbus from Air NZ, said their names would not be released.

The plane was due to be returned to Air NZ.

- with NZ HERALD staff

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

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