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Air France crash victims may not be recovered, investigators say

From Catherine Clifford and Niki Cook, CNN
  • NEW: Two bodies are being examined to see if they have enough DNA for identification
  • If the bodies can be identified, investigators will try to bring other remains to the surface
  • Air accident investigators should know Monday if there is information on data recorders
  • Air France Flight 447 crashed mysteriously June 1, 2009, killing 228 people

Paris (CNN) -- French air accident investigators probing a mysterious crash that killed 228 people will not bring more bodies up from the Atlantic Ocean if they cannot identify the two they already have, they said Thursday.

Those two bodies are being examined to see if there is enough DNA to identify them, investigators said, adding that they hope to have results by Wednesday.

If they can identify the remains, they will consider bringing up other bodies from the wreckage of Air France flight 447, which crashed nearly two years ago off the coast of Brazil.

Only about 50 bodies were recovered in the aftermath of the crash. The bulk of the wreckage was located earlier this year and contains many more human remains, investigators say.

Recovering more bodies will be a difficult task, with miles of cable required to bring each one up over a period of three hours, they said. Relatives of the victims are divided on whether they should be left in place or brought to the surface.

Map: Air France Flight 447
Air France bodies recovered years later

Experts trying to figure out why the plane crashed expect to know Monday whether they will be able to recover information from data recorders found at the bottom of the ocean, they said Thursday.

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were found almost two weeks ago after an unprecedented series of submarine searches of a mountain range 3,900 meters (12,700 feet) under the ocean. They were brought to the surface and taken to Paris by ship and plane.

Over the next several days, their protective casing will be removed, salt will be cleaned off, and the recorders will be left out to dry, investigators told journalists in Paris Thursday.

Once they are dry, any further salt residue will be removed. Investigators will assess the recorders visually, then check the state of the memory cards and finally make a back-up of the cards.

This could take up to three days, they said. Only then they will begin to analyze what is on the recorders, they added.

Investigators also brought an engine and an avionics bay containing computers to the surface Monday, they said

The pilots of Air France 447 lost contact with air traffic controllers on June 1, 2009, while flying across an area of the Atlantic known for severe turbulence, officials said. But exactly what caused the plane to plunge into the ocean remains a mystery.

The plane belly-flopped into the water while en route from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, falling so fast that air masks did not have time to deploy.

The fuselage was discovered in April with bodies still inside, investigators said.

A first body was recovered May 3, still buckled into its seat, days after the data recorders were found, the French Interior Ministry said.

The body "appeared degraded," the ministry added in a written statement. Another body was brought up two days later.

"The attempts to bring up the bodies were made in particularly complex conditions. Considerable uncertainties still remain regarding the technical feasibility of recovering the bodies," the Interior Ministry statement said.

DNA samples from the remains will be sent to a laboratory for analysis, the statement added.

Some relatives of those who died have expressed reservations about remains being brought to the surface.

Last month Robert Soulas, head of a support group for families of flight victims, said: "For me, personally I would like to leave the bodies of my children, my two children, on the seabed."

Other relatives have called for the bodies to be recovered.

France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) said last week that the external casings of both the flight recorders -- which record data and cockpit voices -- were in good condition and that they had started a "drying" process.

Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for the Paris-based BEA, said at the time that even if there was some internal damage to the recorders, some data might still be recoverable.

"We must be very very careful... we are confident but it will take time for us to know whether we can retrieve all the data."

But Phil Seymour, chief operating officer of the International Bureau of Aviation, a British aviation consultancy, said: "I remain skeptical about how useful this device (memory unit) will be. If you were to throw a computer into the ocean, imagine how all the parts would eventually split up. You also have the corrosive effects of seawater and the immense depths involved."

CNN's Thair Shaikh contributed to this report.