A cockpit voice recorder said to be badly damaged in the Air New Zealand Airbus tragedy may still hold vital information on the crash which killed seven people, a source involved in the inquiry has revealed.
Salvage teams and divers had by yesterday recovered a second black box recorder from the wreckage of the A320. They also found a third body near the cockpit of the plane, which now sits in mud 40m under the Mediterranean Sea.
The body will be transferred to the Institute of Forensic Research at Montpellier, where it will undergo DNA analysis and autopsy.
French judicial investigators announced yesterday that the second black box recorder - the flight data recorder, containing technical records of the craft, including speed, altitude and trajectory - had been brought to the surface.
Perpignan state prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno told reporters that another black box, a cockpit voice recorder recovered last week, had been so badly damaged it was unlikely to yield much insight.
However, a member of the multi-national investigation team has told the Herald that black boxes are tested at such length and extremes it is rare to find absolutely no data.
The source, a senior accident investigator with decades of experience, said he knew of only one or two incidents when the memory cartridges had been compromised.
The black box equipment will be sent to manufacturer Honeywell in North America to determine what data can be extracted.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand group general manager international airline, Ed Sims, yesterday described an "extremely moving" remembrance ceremony held on the beach at Perpignan, near where the plane crashed. Family members travelled 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," Mr Sims said.
"In a uniquely Air New Zealand tribute to the lost men, the airline's haka was performed at the accident site by our Cultural Ambassador Andrew Baker."
By last night, 20 family members were expected in France. French authorities intended to continue the search-and-recovery operation until all bodies were found.
However, that was contradicted by French radio stations, which have been reporting that Perpignan prosecutor Jean-Pierre Dreno said search teams would only continue working until this weekend.
Mr Sims praised the French salvage effort in difficult conditions, which had been hampered by rough weather.
Family and friends in France were being supported by representatives of the airline's special assistance team.
Executive Officer Rob Fyfe is meeting them all and the airline is providing them with the latest information as it comes in from search teams.
Asger Schubert, spokesman for XL Airways which had leased the plane off Air New Zealand since May 2006, told the Herald the company would never release the names of the two German crewmen out of respect for the victims and their families.
"We are weighed down with sorrow after the accident and feel with the families of the victims," he said.
"We know that the voice and data recorder is on the way to Paris, to the government authority who will investigate the cause. Unfortunately all we can do is wait." The German families had also provided DNA samples to help identify victims.
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: Beck Vass