Air France crash memorial in Rio amid criticism

AP News
Posted: Nov 07, 2009 3:03 PM

Scores of relatives of the 228 people killed in the June 1 Air France jet crash dedicated a memorial in an upscale beach neighborhood Saturday amid strong criticism that the airline has failed to provide them with the answers or compensation they were promised.

Nelson Marinho, who lost a son on the flight and is president of an association of Brazilian victims' family members, called the dedication "a smoke screen to take the focus off the responsibility that (Air France officials) have."

"We don't want ceremonies," he said.

Marinho said many Brazilian relatives have yet to receive compensation. He also said any memorial should be located closer to where the jet went down _ off Brazil's northeastern coast, about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) north of Rio.

Air France said in a statement Thursday that the Rio memorial was created "at the request of 75 percent of the families contacted." The statement didn't indicate how many of the families had been reached, however.

More than 150 relatives arrived on buses to attend Saturday's dedication. The French Foreign Ministry had said it expected 500 participants.

French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet, who was in Rio for the ceremony, told reporters that his government will investigate whether some families have not received compensation and relatives of non-French victims have been treated differently.

He also promised a vigorous effort to get to the bottom of what caused the crash.

"The French government wants to know the whole truth. It's a difficult investigation _ we don't have the plane, only some debris," Joyandet said. "But the government will make a new attempt to find the black boxes."

The Airbus A330 crashed en route from Rio to Paris and all aboard were killed.

The cause remains unclear, but attention has focused on whether a type of speed sensor known as a Pitot tube malfunctioned and sent false speed information to the jet's computers as the plane ran into a thunderstorm at about 35,000 feet (10,670 meters).

Experts have said running into a violent storm at either too slow or too fast a speed would be dangerous.

Automatic messages transmitted by the plane just before it crashed show its computer systems no longer knew its speed, and the automatic pilot and thrust functions were turned off.

As a result of the tubes' suspected role, the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered a continentwide ban on the sensors made by French manufacturer Thales SA that were fitted onto Flight 447 on all long-range planes. The agency advised airlines to use Pitot tubes made by U.S.-based Goodrich Corp. instead. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued a similar directive for U.S. airlines.

The jet's flight recorders, which could provide clues to what caused the aircraft to go down, have not been found.

French authorities said earlier this week that a third search for the flight recorders _ expected to start by the end of this year _ will not begin until at least the end of February.

In June, Air France chief executive Phillipe Gourgeon told RTL radio that the airline planned to make an advance payment of about $24,400 for each of the victims, with no strings attached.

But Marinho said there are families who have not received anything.

"I am not saying that you could put a price tag on any life, but it would help alleviate our suffering," he said.

Asked about Marinho's comments, an Air France official in Paris replied, "Today is a moment of reverence, so there will be no reaction."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with company policy.