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Air France crash recovery ends with 74 bodies missing

From Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 74 bodies will never be found
  • Human remains and airplane wreckage are en route to France by ship, investigators say
  • The Airbus A330 plane crashed two years ago, killing all 228 people aboard
  • It took four searches to find the wreckage
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Paris (CNN) -- The operation to recover bodies from the crash of Air France 447, which plunged into the Atlantic Ocean two years ago, has ended with 27 more sets of human remains brought to the surface, a French official told CNN on Wednesday.

That means 74 bodies will never be found.

The last group of bodies was brought to the surface on Friday, Philippe Vinogradoff said Wednesday.

A total of 104 bodies were recovered from the remains of the mystery crash during this year's operation, in addition to the 50 that were found in the days after the loss of the plane.

Human remains and aircraft parts are headed by ship to the Canary Islands, where they are expected to arrive Thursday, French air accident investigators said.

From there, they will be transferred to Bayonne in southwest France, investigators said.

All 228 people onboard were killed when the plane crashed in stormy weather en route to Paris from Brazil on June 1, 2009.

It took four searches over the course of nearly two years to locate the bulk of the wreckage, still containing many bodies, in a mountain range deep under the ocean.

Seventy-five bodies were recovered late last month, more than doubling the number of remains that have been found, the vice president of the French victims' association told CNN.

The remains have not yet been identified, Robert Soulas said.

Soulas got the news from a French government liaison appointed to deal with victims' families, he said.

"Personally, I would have preferred to leave the bodies of our loved ones on the seafloor," he added, repeating his long-held view.

Other victims' relatives disagree.

Details of the doomed plane's last minutes began to emerge last month as French air accident investigators studied data recorders recovered from the wreck earlier this year.

The Airbus A330 plummeted 38,000 feet in just three minutes and 30 seconds amid conflicting information that may have led the pilots to make bad decisions, France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA) said last month.

The pilots got conflicting air speed readings in the minutes leading up to the crash, according to an interim report. The aircraft climbed to 38,000 feet when "the stall warning was triggered and the airplane stalled," the report says.

Aviation experts are asking why the pilots responded to the stall by pulling the nose up instead of pushing it down to recover.

"You push down on the wheel to gain air speed, perhaps they (pilots) were getting information that the air speed was too high," said Miles O'Brien, a pilot and aviation analyst. "Pulling the nose up will exacerbate an aerodynamic stall."

The speeds displayed on the left primary flight display were "inconsistent" with those on the integrated standby instrument system (ISIS), the report says.

The aircraft experienced some "rolling" before stalling and then descending rapidly at 10,912 feet (3,300 meters) per minute.

At the time of the descent, the two co-pilots and captain were in the aircraft cockpit.

The pilots lost contact with air traffic controllers while flying across an area of the Atlantic Ocean known for constant bands of severe turbulence.

Air crash investigators at the Paris-based BEA have been working on the theory that the speed sensors, known as pitot tubes or probes, malfunctioned because of ice at high altitude.

CNN's Thair Shaikh contributed to this report.