PARIS — Underwater search teams have located pieces of an Air France plane that crashed in the Atlantic in 2009, French investigators said Sunday, offering a new glimmer of hope in the hunt for clues to what happened.
Previous search efforts proved futile in attempts to shed light on the cause of the crash. All 228 people aboard Flight 447, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, were killed when the plane slammed into the ocean during an intense high-altitude thunderstorm.
The French air accident investigation agency BEA said in a statement Sunday night that a team aboard the expedition ship Alucia "has located pieces of an aircraft … in the last 24 hours."
BEA said that its investigators identified the pieces as parts of Flight 447, and that further details would come later. It did not identify what parts of the plane were located, or where. Messages left with the agency Sunday night were not returned.
Searchers are carrying out a fourth effort to find remains of the plane — and especially its flight recorders, in hopes of determining the cause of the crash.
Finding the cause took on new importance last month when a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and the plane's manufacturer, Airbus. Experts say without the flight data and voice recorders, authorities will not likely determine what was at fault.
Air France and Airbus are financing the estimated $12.5 million cost of the new search. About $28 million has already been spent on the three previous searches for the jet's wreckage.
The team involved in this weekend's discovery was led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, or WHOI, based in Cape Cod, Mass.
The search is being targeted in an area of about 3,900 square miles, several hundred miles off Brazil's northeastern coast, and could last until July.