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France sends underwater probes to EgyptAir search zone

A French naval vessel was en route to the eastern Mediterranean to join the hunt for black boxes from a crashed EgyptAir jet, equipped with three specialist probes from a French company recruited to accelerate the search.

EgyptAir-AV

France’s BEA air crash investigation agency said French naval survey vessel Laplace had left Corsica earlier on Thursday and was heading toward the search zone north of the Egyptian port of Alexandria, where it would begin operations within days.

A week after the Airbus A320 crashed with 66 people on board, including 30 Egyptians and 15 from France, investigators have no clear picture of its final moments.

But Egyptian investigators said a radio signal had been received from an emergency distress beacon usually located in the rear of the cabin. This could help narrow the search area for that part of the fuselage, near the tail where “black box” fight recorders are held, to a 5-km (3-mile) radius, they said.

The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) sends out a signal that can be picked up by satellites in the international search-and-rescue network when an aircraft is in an accident.

It is separate from the underwater locator beacons (ULB) or “pingers” attached to the “black box” flight recorders, which send out acoustic rather than radio signals and are designed to be more easily detected underwater.

John Cox, a former A320 pilot and chief executive of Washington-based Safety Operating Systems, expressed caution about the reported signal from the sunken wreckage.

“There is a low likelihood the ELT would survive and radio doesn’t work as well as acoustic signals underwater,” he said.

Search teams are working against the clock to recover the two flight recorders that will offer vital clues on the fate of flight 804, because the acoustic signals that help locate them in deep water cease transmitting after about 30 days.

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