PARIS (Reuters) - The bodies of 104 victims of an Air France flight that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean two years ago will arrive in France on Thursday, starting what promises to be a long process of identification.
Families of the victims have been divided over whether to retrieve the bodies of their kin, or leave them on the seabed where they have been relatively well preserved due to cold temperatures and high water pressure.
French search teams brought up 104 out of 228 victims from the Air France flight A447 to Paris, which plunged into the sea en route from Rio de Janeiro on June 1, 2009.
Some 50 bodies were found floating in the sea in the days after the crash. The remainder will remain submerged.
The first few bodies recovered from the wreckage have been reasonably well preserved, despite suffering some damage as they were lifted off the seabed.
Investigators are hopeful they will be able to identify all the bodies arriving in Paris with the aid of medical and dental records, as well as DNA information.
The process is likely to be lengthy, however, as they will have to collect "ante mortem" information on each victim -- from when they were alive -- to compare it to evidence retrieved from their dead bodies. It took around two months to identify victims retrieved from the surface two years ago.
The bodies are expected to arrive early on Thursday at the port of Bayonne, on the southwest coast of France.
The analysis of "black box" flight recorders from the Air France plane has shed light on the circumstances of the crash, but investigators have yet to provide a conclusive explanation or to say whether crew or faulty machinery were to blame.
The aircraft plunged out of control for four minutes before crashing into the ocean, raising questions over the way crew handled what appeared to be a "stall alarm" emergency, according to data retrieved from the black boxes.
They showed the pilot was absent from the cockpit and a 32-year old junior pilot had pulled the plane's nose up as it became unstable, generating an audible stall warning.
(Reporting by Sophie Louet in Paris and Claude Canellas in Bordeaux, writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Jan Harvey)