The arduous mid-Atlantic search for the remains of Air France Flight 447 will go on as long as there is hope of finding the plane's black boxes, the French defense minister said Tuesday.
Herve Morin and his Brazilian counterpart Nelson Jobim met at the Paris Air Show and shared notes on progress of the search, which includes the Brazilian military, a French submarine and Dutch ships towing two high-tech U.S. Navy listening devices. All are listening for sounds emanating from the Airbus A330's flight data and cockpit voice recorders, pings that will only emit for two more weeks.
"France is determined to continue the search as long as there is hope of finding the black boxes," Morin told reporters at the Paris Air show, seeking to play down reported discord between the two countries over how long to keep up the operation.
"We've now found 49 bodies. And we'll continue doing this until the moment that, technically, we determine the searches are useless," Jobim told the Agencia Estado news agency.
Jobim said, after four or more days of not finding bodies, the search could perhaps be halted. The last bodies were believed to have been found Friday by a French vessel, but that has not been confirmed.
At the search scene, a vast swath of the Atlantic northeast of Brazil, the weather was fine Tuesday and ships sailed in a grid pattern, trying to find more debris and bodies.
Jobim said the French will continue searching and helping to identify the bodies, but the entire identification process would take place in Brazil "to avoid double autopsies, which would be a horrible thing for the families."
Flight 447 crashed into the sea May 31 as it hit thunderstorms en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Experts say the evidence uncovered so far points to at least a partial midair breakup of the plane, with no signs of an explosion or terrorist act.
Without the black boxes, thought to be thousands of feet underwater, the probe into the disaster that killed 228 people has focused on the possibility that external speed monitors iced over and gave false readings to the plane's computers.
There is no hard evidence that the speed monitors — Pitot tubes — were to blame. However, pilots' union official said Air France had finished replacing air speed monitors on all its long-haul Airbus aircraft under pressure from pilots who feared they might be linked to the crash. The plane that crashed had older Pitot tubes.
Families of about 40 of the victims have created a new group to defend their interests in seeking information from the French government and Air France, which they say has treated them with "a lack of humanity," according to spokesman Christophe Guillot-Noel.
Guillot-Noel told a news conference in Paris the families wanted more information from Air France, access to counseling and updates on the inquiry into the causes of the crash.
Airbus' CEO Tom Enders stressed Tuesday that the causes of the crash remain unclear.
"The investigating authority is not Airbus. We offer support, but we do not speculate about the reasons. It is still too early. There is no possibility to know at this point why Air France 447 really came down," he said at the air show.