PARIS — A remote-controlled submarine on Thursday removed a body from the deep-sea wreckage of the Air France flight that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean two years ago and raised the remains 12,000 feet (3,900 meters) to the water's surface, the French recovery team said.
The victim was still strapped into the seat, making the recovery difficult, according to a statement from French police, which has experts on the recovery boat. It's unclear if all bodies found in a recent search can be recovered.
The recovery of the victim comes two days after the cockpit voice recorder was pulled from the ocean. The data memory unit had been found days earlier. If in good shape, the two "black boxes" could reveal the mystery of why Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris slammed into a remote area of the mid-Atlantic, several hours from the Brazilian coast.
A tissue sample from the newly raised body will be sent back to France along with the black boxes. They are expected to arrive in France by plane early next week, after first being transported by boat to French Guiana.
Investigators hope to use DNA testing on the tissue sample, but it is uncertain those tests will allow them to identify the body.
Fifty bodies were found shortly after the June 1, 2009 crash, during the first search effort.
Bodies of the victims and the wreckage of the Airbus 330 jet have been at the bottom of the mid-Atlantic, 3,900 meters (12,000 feet) below the surface in a flat sandy plain amid huge underwater mountains.
The gendarmerie stressed the difficulty of raising the human remains from such a depth, calling the operation "particularly complex and unprecedented."
Investigators say "strong uncertainties" remain about the technical possibility of raising the remaining bodies.
If the data recorded on the two black boxes is readable, "in three weeks we could know part of the truth" of what caused the crash, Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said this week.
Experts have said without the two recorders, there would be almost no chance of determining what caused the crash, 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.
Automatic messages sent by the Airbus 330's computers showed the aircraft was receiving false airspeed readings from sensors known as pitot tubes. Investigators have said the crash was likely caused by a series of problems and not just a 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. About $28 million was spent on three previous, largely fruitless searches.