What happened to Air France flight 447?
Amid new rumors of a bomb threat, supported by testimony from long-haul pilots familiar with the route taken by Air France flight 447, new details of the plane’s fate are popping up on world news organizations.
Investigators found debris from the plane on Tuesday, including an airplane seat, a wide fuel slick, and several pieces of white debris. The wreckage was scattered across three miles of the Atlantic ocean. Officials are saying this debris marks the site in the mid Atlantic where Air France Flight 447 plunged into the ocean. Brazilian military pilots spotted the wreckage in the ocean 400 miles northeast of small islands off Brazil’s coast. The plane, which was carrying 228 people, vanished on Sunday, June 3, 2009 about four hours into its flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
According to Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim ” . . . the five kilometers of debris are those of the Air France plane.” The Defense Minister said no bodies were recovered and and there were no signs of life. The effort to recover the debris and locate the black box recorders, necessary for understanding the plane’s fate, is going to be quite a challenge. For one thing, the black box only emit its signals for 30 days, and officials have a huge area of ocean to search. Extremely difficult weather conditions and an area of the ocean that can be as deep as 23,000 feet will make the recovery effot next to impossible.
Brazilian military pilots first spotted the floating debris early Tuesday in two spots about 35 miles apart, suggesting a catastrophic interruption to the plane’s trajectory. This according to Brazilian Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral. Though the area is not far off the routine flight path of flight 447, the wide range of debris lends credence to theories that the flight met with a violent end.
The actual cause of the crash can not be verified until the plane’s black boxes are recovered. If they can be found, it will take “weeks” according to French and Brazilian officials. Officially, weather and aviation researchers are discussing the possibility that the flight passed through a particularly bad storm system that potentially sent 100 mph winds directly into the path of the big airliner.
AccuWeather.com reporter Henry Margustiy explains it this way — “The airplane was flying at 500 mph northeast and the air is coming at them at 100 mph. That probably started the process that ended up in some catastrophic failure of the airplane.” While massive Atlantic storms are common this time of year near the equator, where the plane was when the signal was lost, veteran pilots of big airliners, including some who flew the same model of airliner for years, are saying it is “extremely unlikely” that Flight 447’s crew tried to pass through such a disastrous storm.
Pilots often work their way through bands of storms, watching for lightning flashing through clouds ahead and maneuvering around them, he said. If you’ve flown on a plane during a storm, you’re probably familiar with the shifting that occurs. It is possible, according to the pilots (most of whom want to remain anonymous) that the pilots of flight 447 were trying to weave in and out of the lightning storms and met a potentially deadly wind updraft. Unfortunately for investigators, the same frightful weather that might have led to the crash also could halt any recovery efforts. Large Atlantic thunderstoms move through the stretch of ocean where the plane went down on a daily basis.
The plan is to use remotely controlled submersibles to recover wreckage that may have settled deep beneath the surface of the ocean. France has dispatched a research ship equipped with unmanned submarines that can explore as deep as 19,600 feet. The United States is also lending aid in the form of Aa U.S. Navy surveillance plane. The plane in question can fly incredibly low over the ocean for up to 12 hours at a time and is equipped radar and sonar. This “spy plane” was designed to track submarines underwater.
Rescuers are still scanning a vast swath of open ocean, hoping against hope to find survivors or at least the all important black boxes. If no survivors are found, the crash of Flight 447 will be the world’s worst civil aviation disaster since the crash of an American Airlines jet in November 2001. That crash was in New York City and 265 people.
Unfortunately, investigators have few clues to explain what may have brought the massive Airbus A330 down. The crew of the plane made no distress calls before the crash — the plane’s warning system sent a standard and automatic message just before the flight’s signal disappeared. The signal reported a loss of cabin pressure and serious electrical failure. Brazilian officials have described a pile of wreckage that is around three miles long and wide, but have so far refused to make any firm conclusions about what this means about the plane’s fate. Safety consultants and accident investigators in Washington, D.C.are saying the wide path of wreckage most likely indicates the Air France airliner “came apart before it hit the water.”
Until investigators find the elusive black boxes, we will have to listen to media conjecture about the fate of those aboard Air France flight 447.