French investigators may be closer to solving the deadly 2009 crash of an Air France flight after the recovery early Tuesday of the cockpit voice recorder from deep in the Atlantic Ocean.
The recorder was hauled up hours after investigators located it, according to France's air accident investigator, the BEA. The plane's flight-data recorder was pulled out on Sunday after its discovery by a submersible working at 12,800 feet (3,900 meters) below the ocean's surface.
Experts have said without the two recorders — commonly known as "black boxes" — there would be almost no chance of determining what caused the June 1, 2009, crash of Flight 447, which killed all 228 people on board in the worst disaster in Air France's history. The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris slammed into the Atlantic northeast of Brazil after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm.
"If the black boxes are readable, in three weeks we can hope to know part of the truth," Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said on RTL radio.
BEA chief Jean-Paul Troadec said that the two pieces of equipment could allow experts to piece together a timeline of what happened to the plane system's, and the crew's reaction.
He said that other aircraft debris, possibly including the cockpit, would be raised from the ocean floor for study, to further shed light on what went wrong.
By putting everything together, "yes, we think we can understand this accident," Troadec said.
The condition of the recorders was not immediately clear. BEA officials have warned that the recordings may yet prove unusable, considering they spent nearly two years under high pressures.
Automatic messages sent by the Airbus 330's computers showed the aircraft was receiving false air-speed readings from sensors known as pitot tubes. Investigators have said the crash was likely caused by a series of problems and not just sensor error.
Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon called finding the cockpit voice recorder "yet another decisive step forward in the inquiry."
Determining the cause of the crash took on new importance in March, when a French judge filed preliminary manslaughter charges against Air France and planemaker Airbus.
Air France and Airbus are financing the estimated $12.5 million cost of the current search effort, but the French government is paying for the recovery of anything that is found. Some $28 million was spent on three previous, largely fruitless searches.
Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed.