PARIS – A minesweeper searched choppy seas Friday for the flight recorders of an Airbus A320 passenger plane that crashed off France's southern coast, killing two people and leaving five missing and feared dead, officials said.
Rescuers had little hope of finding survivors among the two Germans and five New Zealanders on the maintenance flight, said Rob Fyfe, CEO of Air New Zealand, which owned the plane.
Two bodies, as yet unidentified, were recovered at sea hours after Thursday's crash.
The ship equipped to sweep for mines and other metal objects joined 15 boats, 14 divers, a helicopter and a navy aircraft at the crash site about 12.5 miles off the coast, authorities in the city of Perpignan said.
Conditions were rough, with strong winds and a heavy swell, they added.
"We could only find some plane debris. The majority of the plane went into the sea, but so far we have only found the biggest sections of the debris," rescue worker Julien Sarrade said.
The airplane had undergone checks at a maintenance center in Perpignan, near the border with Spain. It was leased to charter airline XL Airways Germany and was due to return to service for Air New Zealand next month, officials from those 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, they added.
"The search and rescue authorities are not optimistic, given the conditions, of finding any survivors," Fyfe told reporters in Auckland, New Zealand.
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.
Airbus said Thursday the 150-passenger plane had accumulated approximately 7,000 flight hours since its delivery to Air New Zealand in July 2005.