Note: The following post was initially set up as an open forum. I have since then closed it. Original content follows, with the later updates at the top.
Please contribute if you feel like it as long as it remains respectful, open-minded and positive. The purpose of all this, at this stage, is to find out what happened and learn from it rather than criticize or point accusing fingers. My most sincere condolences go to the families affected.
“L’instant d’après le vent se déchaîne,
Les heures s’allongent, comme des semaines…”
UPDATE, July 3: While African and Brazilian air traffic control authorities are arguing about having or not followed hand-over procedure, the BEA sheds no light on the crash in its most recent report, which, even though rather detailed, cannot reveal much more than an apparently high vertical velocity and normal flight attitude at the time of impact.
UPDATE, June 27: Brazil has officially called off the search for bodies and debris.
UPDATE, June 25: One of the 50 bodies recovered has been identified as the Captain’s. I had my own minute of silence thinking of the struggle he might have faced, for a few moments. But then again, he was where he most wanted to be and I believe that he will have done everything he could for the safety of his flight and his passengers, until the end. No one could ask for a better epitaph.
UPDATE, June 23: The French press mentions, since yesterday, rumours of weal acoustic signals having been received by the French sub Emeraude and that could turn out to be from the beacons of flight 447. Nothing has been confirmed yet but the BEA is expected to issue a statement later. If they are located, the next challenge will be their actual recovery. But they hold the key to the mystery of AF447’s disappearance and we can hope answers will come forth.
UPDATE, June 20: A strange new trend in the French media quotes sources discussing a leak in the wastewater system and a corresponding early LAV ACARS message, which I have never seen. Or have I? It would have weakened the composite membrane around it and caused in-flight break-out. Not very credible so far.
Otherwise, I am glad that some people are keeping a sense of humour despite the tragedy. This from PPRuNe:
“About all I have been able to conclude is that if I am ever on an A/C
in distress I will hold on to the lav door, clutch the defibrillator
case, and try to post a msg here as to what happened so you all don’t
have to wonder.”
(Note: the lav door and defibrillator have been recovered intact. “Here” refers to the PPRuNe forum thread dealing with the AF447 crash and which is now in its 105th page, or 2083 posts and counting!)
UPDATE, June 18: The media is losing its interest in the crash as no apparent progress is being made in the recovery/investigative efforts. The number of bodies remains at 50 and additional pieces of debris are being picked up. If nothing else, the debris field drifting north should help investigators come up with a vague crash location approximation based on current/wind drift. No news of the black boxes of course – that would be big news. I have never seen so much public speculation and coverage sprout for an airline crash, but then again never has this happened before (such a high-profile crash with so little clues and at a date recent enough to have had the modern internet at its full strength.)
Here’s a link to a page with a recap of the main pictures/graphics that have been published so far.
UPDATE, June 15: The following found on the otherwise very serious PPRuNe, proof that everybody and their dog is looking for answers. It had me laughing for 5 minutes. I can think of a few rude answers…
“I’m sorry, but I feel I need to ask you what on earth a pilot tube does?”
UPDATE, June 14: As the count of recovered bodies climbs to 50 and still no answers have come forward, this is being pondered on Plane Talking:
This was the same press conference where Air France made the ludicrous claim that lightning might have been involved, and the incorrect claims that the automated ACARS messages, immediately before all contact ceased, detailed a series of unprecedented electrical faults.
Why did Air France make these statements? It had the ACARS messages. They do not require decoding by its operations and maintenance personnel who would have read them for what they are as fast as they appeared. These messages did not support the public comments by the airline in a press conference it held many hours after it knew the jet had crashed.
UPDATE: While the first unofficial autopsy reports seem to indicate in-flight break up of the plane, other reports unofficially conclude the same after Airbus operators recreate the flight on A330 simulators. The assumption that all pitots failed due to ice accumulation has to remain for the latter to be credible. This was discussed on Plane Talking.
UPDATE: L’Emeraude, French attack sub, is currently participating to the search, covering a daily area of 20 square nautical miles, which doesn’t seem like much but hey, it’s better than nothing! I wish them luck. I’m glad to see the navy used in such a way.
The French Pourquoi pas will be on site Thursday with its mini subs and the US towed beacon locators will begin their search on the week-end.
UPADTE: 41 bodies have been recovered so far, which is quite impressive.
As the French Sub Emeraude is expected on site very soon, the US has announced it will contribute two high-tech devices, “towed pinger locators”, to assist in the effort to locate the emergency beacons. Meanwhile, the French research ship Pourquoi pas will use its deep diving subs for the same purpose.
UPADTE: While the body count is now up to 24 and conspiracy theory enthusiasts will be prompt to note that was also the number of ACARS messages sent by the plane, one of the Air France pilot unions is calling for “no flying until the pitot tubes have been replaced.” I think that’s a lot of horse***t. But then again.
UPADTE: We just don’t have the big picture. As a matter of fact, we don’t have a picture at all. The only thing we know for sure, and have known since June 1st, is that the plane failed to report at TASIL and that ACARS messages were sent automatically by the plane. Period. Everything else is pure speculation.
UPADTE: The Captain is said to have reported flying through heavy turbulence and storm clouds prior to the disappearance. Even that’s unconfirmed and nobody knows where it came from. The vertical stabilizer has been found. Ok, we still don’t know what tore it off. What else? Nothing.
UPADTE: It’s quite interesting to see how even the pros jump to conclusion and extrapolate and let their emotions and illusion of knowledge direct their speech. I’ve just been reading a furious exchange of comments on PPRuNe about the vertical stabilizer. All those ATP’s are happily discussing the causes and the reasons and suddenly it sounds like the loss of the tail section was at the origin of the crash. But, like someone was very smartly pointing out, what if we had found a door first? Would we have started speculating on a sudden depressurization? What if it had been a wheel? Would we conclude that the plane had tried a water landing with its gear down? Or if we found a dead bird, would we claim that there was a bird strike at FL350? Come on people, get real! The fact that we find a piece of debris doesn’t mean we can suddenly elaborate new flaming theories.
I’d be very tempted to quote some quantum theory rules here, but I won’t…
UPADTE: Pictures of the recovery of a part of the tail:
UPADTE: With 17 bodies and a lot more debris found so far, we must be about to get partial answers at the very least. I’m sure something can be learned from analysis of the wreckage and injuries. The job of the search teams must be a very tough one.
UPADTE: Airbus’ technical data about the A330 and AF447.
UPADTE: Correction to one of my previous posts: the last ACARS message concerning the cabin vertical speed most likely implied a fast rate of descent of the aircraft, but not a depressurazition – which would have triggered a warning rather than an advisory.
UPADTE: Technical inormation from the Airbus A330-200 Operating Manual found here. Warning, it’s thick stuff.
UPADTE: This, read on a very serious aviation forum, is quite true and made me smile, amidst the tragic confusion that still reigns around the crash of AF447:
“If it was a bad guy with a funny suitcase, the FIRST report would be a ECAM cabin pressurization change or a cargo hold door or cargo fire detector warning. Right?”
UPADTE: With six bodies and more debris having now been pulled out of the water, investigators and forensics at least have something to work with. The French attack sub Émeraude’s ETA is on Wednesday.
UPDATE: Once again, I feel compelled to explain the reasons for this post. Since I am not directly related to a missing passenger, the drama for me is pretty much over. What remains is a very important puzzle. I see this as a journalistic experiment, without the usual constraints; I am both trying to report facts and to admit personal opinions and feelings.
I am biased. I love planes. I love flying. And pilots are among the few people I respect unconditionally. Nobody ends up in a cockpit by mistake, or because they didn’t know what else to do. It takes tremendous effort and most of all, passion.
Throughout this tragedy, I have read and tried to assimilate a huge amount of reports and information on the web and witnessed a little bit of every possible human reaction. People have let their emotions take over, false information and gossip were circulated, comments have ranged from completely insane to grossly insulting. The web site www.airfrance447.com was registered on June 1st in the morning. I’ll let you judge that one.
Then there were also incredibly detailed and competent analysis performed by individuals like Tim Vasquez and others, and the deeper I dig, the more I realize that the entire aviation community is following this closely. I have read many a very informed comment by the pilots of A330 and other airplanes who are sharing their opinions in a respectful and constructive way.
Despite the terribly sad circumstances, witnessing these events unfold via the internet is a very interesting window into the human mind, and heart. As always, the best and the worst of us come out simultaneously.
UPDATE: Much is being said about a 2007 Airbus recommendation regarding pitot tube replacement on A320s. I’m afraid we’re getting to the point where people will start looking for heads to cut. Let’s not jump the gun. This was a recommendation for a voluntary replacement by the airlines, not an airworthiness directive or even a service bulletin. However Air France was in the process of replacing them on A330s and A340s.
UPDATE: Even darker news for what they are, yet they might signify the beginning of a long healing process for at least a few people: Brazil reports having found two bodies and more debris, including a blue seat, a laptop and a plane ticket, yet to be identified as belonging to AF447 even though one source mentions the ticket number matches.
UPDATE: According to the Spanish press, Iberia flight 6024 was flying 7 minutes behind the Air France plane on the same route. They deviated over 50 km to the east to negotiate the storm cell.
UPDATE: In the wake of the tragedy, Air France is renaming the regular Rio-Paris flight from AF447 to AF445.
UPDATE: Most of the insider talk at the moment revolves around the “coffin corner” and erroneous airspeed indication caused by icing of the pitot tubes, and/or damage to the radome. I’m afraid – or relieved – that most of these alternatives lead to an in-flight structural failure rather than a crash into the ocean.
UPDATE: For info, the coffin corner is a term used to describe the top part of a jet’s flight envelope where the critical mach number meets the stall speed. If you fly faster, drag increases and you lose altitude. If you fly slower, you stall and lose altitude. (That’s simplifying things heavily.)
UPDATE: The pitot tubes are probes that measure the plane’s airspeed by sensing static and dynamic pressures. They are normally heated to avoid icing – which is generally thought not to happen at 35,000 ft – except in very large thunderstorms that drive warm air up.
UPDATE: The radome is located in the nose and contains the weather radar and other sensitive equipment.
UPDATE: Flying at 35,000 ft as it is assumed to have been, AF447 probably still had a good margin of 35 to 100 kts (depending on different reports I’ve found on the web by A330 pilots interpolating for weight, fuel used, etc.) between the two extremes. But if we consider turbulence, rapid changes in the wind speed, pitot icing and even a possible climb to FL370 to avoid weather (thus narrowing the coffin corner), it is very possible the plane was pushed into overspeed or slowed too much, causing a stall, structural damage or both.
UPDATE: A tentative transcript of the ACARS messages, nothing official, can be found here.
UPDATE: A quote from this blog, efficient demonstration of the chaos and misinformation surrounding the crash of Air France flight 447:
UPDATE: “Among the reports that lack credibility are those quoting the pilots expressing concern that they were flying directly into a black storm cloud.
It was night. Everything was black.”
UPDATE: Well, the French have decided that if the planes won’t find anything, they’ll send in a sub. The nuclear attack submarine Émeraude is expected on site next week and will initiate a search pattern with the primary goal of locating the black boxes.
UPDATE: I’m all for that. I think using military equipment and crews for search and rescue is dollars well spent, much better than playing cowboy and indians with the guys next door. I wish them luck! We need it.
UPDATE: Back to square one. The oil slick was a boat’s, which makes me feel better about my own hunch finding 20 km too long for it to be the plane’s…
UPDATE: The first debris recovered by the Brazilian Air Force has turned out not to be from flight 447. So far the French haven’t found anything either…
• Update 4 – June 4: Another report by a nearby Spanish commercial flight seems to indicate in-flight explosion or disintegration as the two Spanish crew and a passenger witnessed a bright white flash and vertical descending trajectory that lasted 6 seconds.
• Update 3 – June 4: It would appear the nature of the automated ACARS messages sent by the plane has been leaked and while not confirmed officially by Air France yet, they indicate that the first message was sent manually by the pilot mentioning crossing a large zone of dense black cumulo-nimbus clouds that were highly charged with electricity.
System failure reports began ten minutes later at 02:10Z indicating that the autopilot had disengaged (whether automatically in response to a fault or manually by the crew) and the fly-by-wire system had changed to Alternate Law mode (as opposed to Normal Law which is the regular mode of operation; Alternate Law means some of the protections are dropped.)
Between 02:11Z and 02:13Z a flurry of messages regarding ADIRU (Air Data and Inertial Reference Unit, provides data such as airspeed, altimeter, attitude and position to the instruments) and ISIS (Integrated Standby Instrument System, a completely independent, self contained system providing a third independent set of basic instruments – attitude indicator, altimeter, airspeed indicator – to the crew) faults arrived.
At 02:13Z PRIM 1 and SEC 1 (Flight Control Primary and Secondary Computers) faults were indicated. Finally, at 02:14Z the last message received was an advisory containing “cabin vertical speed” (from a loss of cabin pressure; the vertical speed refers to “cabin altitude”, hence cabin pressure and not to aircraft’s altitude. This does not necessarily signify a loss of altitude by the plane but it can be assumed the plane was descending rapidly, either as part of the standard sudden depressurization procedure or because it was falling.)
• Update 3 – June 4: A fascinating and very thorough weather analysis of the crash site area can be found here.
• Update 2 – June 3: Finally some tangible data. This was borrowed from Globo, courtesy of the Brazilian Air Force.
The plane was off radar and had left the Recife Control Center, was
within the Atlantic Area Control Center, headed for the Dakar Control
Center. We can see that the last position report was done at INTOL and
TASIL was next. These are mandatory reporting waypoints at which
aircraft report their position, time over the fix, flight level, ETA
over the following waypoint and name of the next one. AF447’s last
position report will most likely have been something like this: “Recife
Center, AF447 over INTOL at 0133Z, flight level 350, IFR, estimating
TASIL at 0220Z, next (…not sure which).
Debris (unconfirmed at this stage) has been spotted in two locations
roughly 60 km apart (that seems far, currents?) There is an obvious
deviation to the right and the rear, which would suggest that they
attempted to turn around, unless the position of the automated
technical fault report is only a projection on the intended route.
I think I’ll leave this all to rest now, unless something very important comes up. Again, may all affected find peace soon.
Furthermore, the Brazilian Air Force got a report by the crew of a
TAM commercial flight on a reverse route that they had spotted “points
of light” on the surface of the ocean about 800 miles from Brazil, some
40 minutes after the last contact with flight AF447. I’m afraid this
can’t be a coincidence. I guess we’ll know soon.
Peace to those who left and to those who remain.
Monday afternoon, Vancouver time – While the tragedy is still unfolding and Air France’s Airbus A330 remains missing, my heart goes to those who are waiting in despair at Roissy Charles de Gaulle. The purpose of this post isn’t really to add my grain of salt to the catastrophe. Yet am anxious to know, and curious, and aviation has always been very dear to me and since I’ve already witnessed an incredible amount of stupidity in comments and questions across the web, I figured I might as well add my own. I’m probably just whistling in the dark…
For one thing, I can’t help but to be puzzled by the strangely slow and distorted flow of information reaching the public about the whole situation. Media and official services’ fault or unavoidable consequence of tragedy and human hearts dealing with adrenaline?
From what I gather, Air France flight 447 left Rio just after midnight Sunday night (we’ll use Paris time.) The last radio contact between Brazilian ATC and the plane was at 3:30 AM. At 4:00 AM the aircraft entered a zone of strong turbulence. At 4:15, it sent automated reports about multiple electrical system failures, and possibly a loss of cabin pressure. Then nothing.
The plane was flying at 35,000 feet and 521 mph. After 4:15 hours in flight and at that speed, AF447 should have been some 2000 (nautical?) miles from its departure point, which means passed the half-way mark between continents, en route to Sénégal. After a maximum of 2 more hours, it would have been in contact with Dakar. When such contact failed, Dakar should have called Brazil and given the alarm. I hear the opposite happened. Why? Did I misunderstand that they had gone out of Brazilian airspace?
We now have a missing aircraft a bit before 6:00 AM Paris time. Everything should be set in motion at that point, planes don’t just vanish and they are on tight, very precise schedules. But a special crisis center was established in CDG only at 9:30 am. Why the delay? Did they think the guys had lost their way and would eventually figure out where they were again? Or does it take that long for the news to sink in? Granted, they still had 2 hours before the estimated time of arrival in Paris, so 9:30 could be considered timely.
How about the Emergency Locator Transmitters? I understand there were three on board – the newer systems broadcast on 406 Mhz instead of the good old 121.5 Mhz, not sure which these were. Why don’t we have anything yet? Satellites should be able to pick them up right away. Other planes must have been flying that route, why didn’t they pick up a signal, hear a Mayday or see anything? Unless the plane was completely destroyed in mid-air, but then what would causes that? The current lighting strike hypothesis seems a little far fetched. Planes are struck by lightning all the time and they make it all right.
How about search and rescue? We’re getting reports of search and rescue operations anywhere from 400 km from the Brazilian coast by the Brazilian Air Force, to 1100 km offshore, to the African coast by the French. And yet Air France has declared having ascertained the plane’s position to less than 100 km (cernée à quelques dizaines de nautiques près.) Why all this conflicting information?
So we seem to have every commercial airliner on the route looking for signs of wreckage, listening on the emergency frequency if 121.5 was used by the beacons, the Brazilian Air Force searching on its side of the ocean, the French looking in the middle and someone else looking near Africa. The French have even requested the Pentagon’s help with their satellites. Which ones? Don’t know. Won’t GEOSAR do?
It’s night time now over the Atlantic, so unless a locator frequency is picked up, there probably isn’t much to be found until the morning, unless they are equipped with some kind of IR detection equipment or a flying magician.
But, while this in no way softens the pain, suffering and sadness, let’s try and keep things in perspective and remember that air travel is statistically incredibly safe. Today’s catastrophe is almost unheard of in many ways. It’s a cruel reminder that when our time comes, no matter how safe we played it, it has come. Until then, all we can do is enjoy every single moment, suck the marrow out of life and be happy, loving and grateful. And above all, avoid taking ourselves – and life – too seriously. It’s only life after all.