French locate black boxes after Airbus A320 crash

PARIS – Search teams on Friday found the flight recorders from an Airbus A320 passenger jet that crashed off France's southern coast, killing two people and leaving five others missing and feared dead, officials said.

Divers were on track to locate the full wreckage of the jet, which was on a maintenance flight when it plunged into the Mediterranean on Thursday, state prosecutor Dominique Alzeari said.

Rob Fyfe, CEO of Air New Zealand, which owned the plane, said two Germans and five New Zealanders were on board. Officials said two bodies, as yet unidentified, were recovered at sea hours after the crash.

While the search for survivors was called off Friday morning, the hunt for the plane continued, despite strong winds and choppy seas, said Alzeari, a prosecutor in the southern city of Perpignan near the border with Spain.

French authorities deployed 15 boats, 14 divers, a helicopter, a navy aircraft, and a ship equipped to sweep for mines and other metal objects at the crash site about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) off the coast, officials said.

They said the cause of the crash was not immediately known.

The plane had undergone checks at a Perpignan maintenance center. It was leased to charter airline XL Airways Germany and was due to return to service for Air New Zealand next month, officials from the companies said.

The crew included two German pilots, as well as a pilot and three engineers working for Air New Zealand and an aircraft inspector from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, the officials added.

The jet plunged into the Mediterranean as it was approaching the Perpignan airport, from which it had taken off on a circular flight an hour earlier, France's civil aviation accident investigation bureau said.

"The plane didn't send an alert message — or at least not one that was heard by the control tower," Transportation Minister Dominique Bussereau told reporters in Perpignan. "It appears that as it was descending to land on the runways ... it suddenly veered up by several hundred feet."

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that it would send a team of investigators to Perpignan to help with the investigation once recovery of the plane was under way.

Airbus said Thursday the 150-passenger plane had accumulated approximately 7,000 flight hours since its delivery to Air New Zealand in July 2005.


Associated Press writer Ray Lilley in Wellington, New Zealand, and Septime Meunier in Paris contributed to this report.