RECIFE, Brazil — Search crews recovered the vertical stabilizer from the tail section of an Air France jetliner that went down in the Atlantic, Brazil's air force said Monday — a key item in finding the cause of the crash.
The discovery of the wreckage is helping searchers narrow their search for the jet's black boxes, perhaps investigators' best hope of learning what happened to the Airbus A330-200.
Brazilian military officials have declined to detail the large pieces of the plane they have found. But a video on the Brazilian air force Web site titled "Vertical Stabilizer Found" shows video of the piece — which keeps the plane's nose from swinging from side to side — being located and tethered to a ship. The part had Air France's blue-and-red stripes and retained its triangular shape.
Investigators are looking at the possibility that external speed monitors — called Pitot tubes — iced over and gave dangerously false readings to cockpit computers in a thunderstorm.
Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the faulty airspeed readings and the fact the vertical stabilizer was sheared from the jet could be related — though he cautioned it would need to be determined if the stabilizer was torn off in flight or upon impact in the ocean.
An internal memo sent to Air France pilots Monday urges them to refuse to fly unless at least two of the three Pitot sensors on each planes have been replaced.
The leader of another pilots' union, however, said Monday that Pitot troubles probably didn't cause the crash of Flight 447 while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
The wreckage from the plane has been found roughly 400 miles northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast, and about 45 miles from where the airliner was last heard from May 31.
High-tech help is on the way for investigators — two U.S. Navy devices that can pick up the flight recorders' emergency beacons from the ocean floor. What caused the jet to plunge with 228 people on board might not be known until those black boxes are found.