* Debris pattern could indicate midair breakup
* Brazil defense minister says explosion unlikely
* Air France confirms recent bomb threat on a flight
(Adds defense minister comments)
By Miguel Lo Bianco
FERNANDO DE NORONHA, Brazil, June 3 Search
crews flying over the Atlantic found debris from a crashed Air
France jet spread over more than 55 miles (90 km) of ocean on
Wednesday, reinforcing the possibility it broke up in the air.
But Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said the
existence of large fuel stains in the water likely ruled out an
explosion, undercutting speculation about a bomb attack.
"The existence of oil stains could exclude the possibility
of a fire or explosion," he said at a news conference in
Brasilia. "If we have oil stains, it means it wasn't burned."
Experts said extreme turbulence or decompression may have
caused the Airbus A330 to splinter two days ago on its way from
Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people on board.
The first Brazilian navy ship was nearing the crash area,
about 685 miles (1,100 km) northeast of Brazil's coast, to
begin retrieving debris. French officials said they may never
discover why the plane went down as the flight data and voice
recorders may be lost at the bottom of the ocean.
Air force pilots searching the area have reported no signs
of survivors and officials said recovering bodies may be
"As well as bodies sinking, you also have problems along
the coast of Pernambuco (state) that you know about," Jobim
said in reference to sharks. He added bodies could take several
days to float to the surface.
Newly spotted traces of the plane included a 12-mile
(20-km) fuel stain and various objects spread across a 3-mile
(5-km) area, including one metallic object 23 feet (7 metres)
The plane sent no mayday signals before crashing, only
automatic messages indicating electrical faults and a loss of
pressure shortly after it entered stormy weather.
"If the decompression reading was correct, it caused a
structural problem ... it is a very violent event that causes
pieces to come apart and that explains why the wreckage is
spread out so much," said Kirk Koenig, a commercial pilot and
president of Indianapolis-based Expert Aviation Consulting.
"It's like when you see an Indy 500 race car being hit and
pieces start to come off," he added.
Aviation trade publications focused on a series of warnings
in recent months issued by U.S. and European regulators about
electronic systems on A330s and A340s that could throw planes
into sharp dives. The directives covered ADIRUs -- air data
inertial reference units -- which feed crucial information to
the cockpit to help fly planes.
With officials struggling to explain how a modern aircraft
could have crashed in stormy weather that is routine on the
trans-Atlantic route, there was speculation a bomb could have
caused the worst crash in Air France's 75-year history.
The airline said on Wednesday it had received an anonymous
telephone warning that a bomb was on a flight leaving Buenos
Aires on May 27, four days before the crash. A spokesman said
the plane was checked, no bomb was found and the aircraft left
an hour and a half late. He added that such alerts were
Given the challenging location of the crash, its cause may
never be known.
"I am not totally optimistic. We cannot rule out that we
will not find the flight recorders," said Paul Louis Arslanian,
the head of France's air accident investigation agency.
MINI-SUB ON ITS WAY
France is dispatching a mini-submarine that can explore to
a depth of 19,680 feet (6,000 metres) and will try to locate
the Airbus' flight data and voice recorders, which should shed
light on the crash.
The recorders are designed to send homing signals for up to
30 days when they hit water, but there is no guarantee they
even survived the impact with the sea, Arslanian said.
Brazil is leading its search effort from Fernando de
Noronha, a sparsely populated volcanic archipelago and nature
reserve off its northeastern coast.
It has mobilized 11 air force planes, four navy vessels
with divers and a tanker for the retrieval operation that Jobim
said was being carried out in a 120-mile (193-km) radius.
Jorge Amaral, a Brazilian air force colonel, said the long
strip of metal found on Wednesday was the biggest piece that
search crews had seen so far.
"We are considering this 7-metre piece to be part of the
plane, possibly part of the side, a piece of steel. It could be
part of the fuselage or the tail," he told reporters.
The French investigation will have its first report ready
by the end of the month, and will be led by Alain Bouillard,
who took charge of the investigation into the crash of an Air
France Concorde in 2000.
France held an ecumenical religious ceremony for relatives
and friends of those on the plane at Notre Dame Cathedral in
Paris on Wednesday, attended by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
(Additional reporting by Alonso Soto and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in
Rio, Laure Bretton and Clement Guillou in Paris; Writing by
Stuart Grudgings; editing by Terry Wade and Peter Cooney)