PARIS (AP) " French officials say that specialists could start pulling up bodies and wreckage from an Air France plane from the Atlantic Ocean floor within a month.
Investigators say they still haven't found the plane's black box flight recorders and it's unclear whether they are still attached to the fuselage.
All 228 people aboard the plane were killed when the flight, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, slammed into the ocean June 1, 2009, after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm. The cause of the crash remains unclear.
The head of France's air accident investigation agency, Jean-Paul Troadec, told reporters Monday that he's confident that engineers can still read the data and recordings in the black boxes " if they weren't damaged in the crash.TelegraphTV
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
PARIS (AP) " Undersea robots have located bodies, motors and a "large part" of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, but haven't yet found its black box flight recorders, French officials said Monday.
Victims' families cautiously welcomed the surprise announcement that search teams have located pieces of the plane, after nearly two years of fruitless efforts to determine what caused it to crash. Investigators have said without the recorders, the cause may never be determined.
All 228 people aboard the plane were killed when the flight, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, slammed into the ocean June 1, 2009, after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm.
The French air accident investigation agency BEA said Sunday night that a team aboard the expedition ship Alucia using underwater robots "has located pieces of an aircraft ... in the past 24 hours."
French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said Monday that "bodies have been located." Speaking on France-Info radio, he wouldn't elaborate, saying further information would be released to the families alone.
Fifty bodies were found during the first phase of the search, along with more than 600 pieces of the plane scattered on the sea. No bodies or debris have been found since.
"This fourth search campaign allowed us to locate motors, landing gear, wing parts, which is a very positive sign because at last we will be able, perhaps, to find out the truth," Mariani said.
BEA spokeswoman Martine Del Bono said Monday that the black boxes have not been located. "I hope to be able to announce that (discovery) in the coming weeks," she told The Associated Press.
The debris was found at remarkable depths, of between 3,800 and 4,000 meters, Del Bono said. It is far from clear whether the flight recorders, even if they are found, would still be intact after nearly two years under such conditions.
"In the past we found the tail, scattered pieces, but this time we have found a large part of the plane, surrounded by debris," said French government minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who oversees environmental and transport issues, on France-Inter radio.
"Everything didn't explode. There was a part of the cabin, and in this cabin, there are bodies."
She said there is a possibility that the bodies could be identified.
Jean-Baptiste Audosset, who lost his partner in the crash, said the announcement offers "at last a bit of hope." He said, however, that families remain cautious after an earlier announcement that parts of the plane had been located turned out to be untrue.
The families have many questions about what exactly was found, where and what it might mean.
Three previous search efforts proved futile in attempts to shed light on the cause of the crash.
Finding the cause took on new importance last month when a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and the plane's manufacturer, Airbus. Experts say without the flight data and voice recorders, authorities will not likely determine what was at fault.
Air France and Airbus are financing the estimated $12.5 million cost of the new, fourth search effort that started last month. About $28 million has already been spent on the three previous searches for the jet's wreckage.
The team involved in this weekend's discovery was led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, or WHOI, based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The search is being targeted in an area of about 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometers), several hundred miles off Brazil's northeastern coast.
Searchers are using up to three autonomous underwater search vehicles, each of which can stay underwater for up to 20 hours while using sonar to scan a mountainous area known as the Mid-Ocean Ridge. Researchers download the data, and a vehicle with a high resolution camera is sent to check out an area if scientists see evidence of debris.
Air France welcomed the announcement that part of the plane has been found.
"This discovery... is good news indeed since it gives hope that information on the causes of the accident, so far unresolved, will be found," the airline said in a statement.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.