(Adds details, background)
By Tim Hepher
PARIS, Oct 3 (Reuters) - France's air accident investigation agency said on Tuesday it would lead the probe into an engine explosion that prompted the emergency landing of an Air France A380 superjumbo in Canada with over 500 people on board on Saturday.
Reuters reported on Monday that Canada, France and the United States were debating who should lead the investigation into the accident, which took place high over Greenland.
The decision to hand control to the BEA means investigators can begin planning an unusual search in potentially inhospitable terrain to find a missing 3-metre-(9.8-foot)-wide fan that ripped off the engine in midair.
Nobody was injured in the incident, in which Air France Flight 66, originating in Paris and bound for Los Angeles, declared a mayday and diverted to Goose Bay in Labrador.
The BEA confirmed that the engine's main fan and inlet had become detached. It now plans with Danish help to search for the missing parts.
"That's what is envisaged, but it depends on snow conditions," a BEA spokesman said. A preliminary reading of the plane's data recorder in Canada has identified a search area.
The BEA said damage was limited to the right-outer no.4 engine and its immediate surroundings, boosting chances that the aircraft can be flown back to Europe for further examination.
The A380 is the world's largest airliner and a European icon with a history of attracting debate because of its high public profile, and the start of the probe appeared to be no exception.
Under aviation law, the job of investigating belongs to Denmark since the blowout happened over Greenland, which is part of Denmark with self-government over domestic affairs.
With three other major aviation nations involved, each equipped with sophisticated testing equipment, Denmark exercised its right to delegate the main role. But people briefed on the talks said it took days to agree who should take its place.
Canada was seen as keen to keep control of the case, but aviation experts said France had priority because that was where the plane was built, designed, registered and operated.
Canadian investigators will remain involved along with counterparts from the United States, France and Denmark, whose expertise is needed to track down the missing fan.
They will be helped by Airbus and U.S. engine maker Engine Alliance, co-owned by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.
Experts say such engine accidents are rare but must be investigated thoroughly because of the significant damage they can cause. In 2010, a Qantas A380 made an emergency landing in Singapore after a Rolls-Royce engine exploded shortly after take-off. Investigators blamed a badly manufactured part. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Peter Cooney)