Page last updated at 06:38 GMT, Sunday, 7 June 2009 07:38 UK

Questions amid grief in Brazil

Grieving relatives await news after the Air France crash in the Atlantic Ocean
Grieving relatives react to news that some bodies have been found

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The recovery of the first bodies and debris following the disappearance of the Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris has undoubtedly evoked varying reactions.

For the investigators, it is the first step in a complex task of trying to establish what exactly caused such a sophisticated plane to fall from the sky.

For some of the relatives it is confirmation of their worst fears, while others have refused to give up hope.

"I received the news in the best way possible, because we were all very distressed" says lawyer Marco Tulio Moreno, whose parents were on the plane.

"Now we have evidence of what happened on the plane. This diminishes the anguish of all of us.

"Some people hugged each other, some people cried, but the feeling of everyone is of relief after those days without answers," he told Brazil's TV Globo.

A Brazilian navy frigate anchored near Fernando de Noronha to help with the search for victims and debris
A Brazilian frigate is part of the search operation for victims and debris

Specialist police officers have gone to the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha where the bodies will arrive on Sunday to start the process of identification.

Families have been asked to provide DNA and personal details, such as what their relatives were wearing on the day of departure.

Among the material recovered from the Atlantic were a case with an Air France ticket, a rucksack and a laptop.

The authorities say further details will only be provided to relatives.

Tragedy repeating

Brazil has been here before. It is only two years ago that another major air crash brought grief.

In July 2007 a plane from the country's largest airline, Tam, sped off a runway at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, crashing into a nearby building.

In all, 199 people died, including everyone on the flight and some on the ground.

Now, following the disappearance of Air France AF 447, the country is again in a sombre mood.

At least 58 Brazilians are among the missing, ranging from a member of the country's former royal family to the chief of staff of the mayor of Rio, business executives, students and holidaymakers.

A man holds a French newspaper outside Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, during a service for the missing French passengers
The deaths were mourned in France and other countries

It was an international tragedy, with people from many countries on board the flight, the largest number coming from France itself.

Analysis has focused on the question of turbulence and the possibility that the flight was struck by lightning, or technical concerns with the plane, but there are as many doubts as certainties.

It is, as one French minister acknowledged, a race against time to recover the flight data recorders - the so-called black boxes.

They emit signals for up to 30 days.

There was a stark moment at a press conference in Paris when an official held up the small cylindrical object which emits the signal.

As he clutched it in one hand, it seemed easy to believe that recovering this from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean will be enormously difficult - even with the help of a French nuclear submarine, or another deep-sea submarine that was once used to explore the decks of the Titanic.

Black day

For the last week, the tragedy has dominated the daily papers and weekly news magazines in Brazil.

Pictures of grief-stricken relatives have featured prominently in the coverage, and there are many sad individual stories.

There was the university professor going to the congress in Paris; the oil engineer travelling to Germany on business; the couple heading off on their honeymoon after getting married on Saturday, when they celebrated with families and friends until 3am.

The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, was mourning the almost certain loss of Marcelo Parente Gomes de Oliveira, not only a top aide, but a man who had been his friend from childhood.

A largely unaware public has been introduced to the "inter-tropical convergence zone" through which the plane passed, a belt of low pressure in the region of the Equator associated with heavy turbulence.

Pilots are used to dealing with this area of instability, often flying over the thick clouds, it was reported.

Other specialists said there seemed to be nothing from satellite images to suggest there was anything exceptional at the time the flight disappeared.

The primary focus, however, remains on those most directly affected and the continuing search.

A Tam airways plane crashed off a runway in July 2007
Brazil is still dealing with the aftermath of the Tam plane crash two years ago

Brazil is still dealing with the fallout from the Tam tragedy in 2007, and the earlier loss of a passenger plane over the Amazon in September 2006.

For many of the relatives who lost loved ones in those tragedies, there are still issues to be resolved and considerable bitterness remains.

Conflict and criticism

In the first days of uncertainty following the disappearance of the Air France flight there appeared not to be the same level of anger.

Now some criticism is emerging.

The handling of the initial release of information appears to have won few admirers for Brazil's Defence Minister Nelson Jobim.

There was clear irritation in France at claims that debris had been recovered, which then had to be withdrawn, and over the minister's assumption that there probably had not been an explosion on board the plane.

Now concerns are emerging about speed monitors on board the Air France aircraft, and the revelation that this was a general issue of concern since May last year.

It may or may not be of wider significance, given that at least 24 automatic messages indicated a series of systems on board the plane were failing in the last few minutes as it passed through turbulent weather.

French investigators have cautioned against making a premature judgement.

With so few facts established, the cause is still unclear, and the grieving continues.

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