Northern Ireland

Jet wreckage offers hope for Riverdance star's family

Image caption Eithne Walls, 28, was a doctor and a talented dancer

Human remains found among wreckage from a crashed passenger jet have offered fresh hope to the family of a County Down doctor and Riverdance star.

Eithne Walls, 28, from Ballygowan, County Down died when an Air France jet from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic on 1 June 2009.

Her body has never been recovered. All 228 people on board were killed.

She had been on holiday with two doctor friends from the Republic of Ireland. She died alongside her two friends.

They were Aisling Butler, from Roscrea, County Tipperary, and Jane Deasy from Dublin.

The three women had graduated in medicine from Trinity College Dublin in 2007 and were returning from holiday.

Dr Walls, who worked in the Dublin Eye and Ear Hospital, was also a talented Irish dancer. She had spent a year with Riverdance on Broadway, New York, before going on to university.

But French air accident investigators have now discovered a large piece of fuselage and engine from the Airbus A330 plane, French Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has confirmed.

"A large part of the plane has been found, all in one piece, and human bodies have also been found," she told Radio France Inter.

Black boxes

"There is now hope that the black boxes will also be found quickly."

The black boxes were fitted with locater beacons, known as 'pingers', which send an electronic impulse every second, but only for around 30 days before battery power runs out.

There are also doubts over whether vital information on the boxes could be preserved after more than 18 months underwater, the French defence ministry said.

The hunt for the wreckage around 1,500 miles north-east of the Brazilian port of Recife resumed last month after initial searches found only 50 bodies and hundreds of small fragments of the smashed aircraft.

A preliminary investigation found that the crash could have been caused by faulty speed sensors, called "pitot tubes" which iced over during the flight.

Plane-maker Airbus was last month charged with the manslaughter of the 228 victims - including five Britons and the three Irish doctors.

The company could now face a full trial in the coming months over the crash.

Air France has also been summoned to court to answer accusations it did not respond quickly enough to reports that speed sensors might be faulty.

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