Lost: The Mystery of Flight 447

by Jonathan on May 31, 2010

Good news for those of us living outside of the UK. A reader has posted a download link for the BBC documentary on Flight 447. The documentary is available to view or download at ZShare.

If you live in the UK, you can stream it from the BBC’s iPlayer site.

I don’t know how long this will be available, so grab at as soon as you get a chance.

Thanks goes to Ronald for the download link.


Air France Flight 447 Documentary on BBC

by Jonathan on May 31, 2010

The BBC has aired a documentary about Flight 447 on May 30. Currently, this documentary is only viewable if you live in the UK. It is called Lost: The Mystery of Flight 447. Since I’m in the United States, I do not have access.

If you live in the UK, you can check out Lost: The Mystery of Flight 447 on the BBC’s iPlayer website.

If anyone knows if this will ever air in the US, or if you know how it can be viewed outside of the UK, please share.

The Daily Mail also posted a story about the documentary. You can view it here or read it below..

Thanks to Andrew for this information.

As the jet flew through the dead of night, most passengers slept. They included a mother and her five-year-old son, and an 11-year-old boy returning to his boarding school in Bristol.

Alexander Bjoroy had spent an idyllic half-term break with his expatriate family in Brazil. His parents, Robin and Jane, had seen him safely to the airport, then waved him off as he returned to Bristol’s £5,970-a-term Clifton College.

One couple on the flight, a young doctor and lawyer, had married only the day before. After a wedding reception in a Rio nightclub, they had boarded the plane to begin their honeymoon.

It was June 1, 2009, and this was Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris – a routine international flight.

In the early hours of that fateful morning, however, something dreadful occurred. Air France Flight 447 made its final radio transmission – and then all contact was lost.

The flight simply vanished. On the ground, French officials told desperate relatives: ‘We wait, we pray, we will know more this afternoon.’

So began one of the most catastrophic and troubling air disasters of modern times, a crash that killed 228 people from 32 nations. Five Britons, including 11-year-old Alexander, died.

Fernando Schnabl was waiting for his wife, Christine, and their little son Philipe to land. Travelling separately in order to use up their Airmiles, he had kissed his wife goodbye in Rio de Janiero and then boarded a different plane to Paris with Celine, their three-year-old daughter.

Landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris the next morning, Fernando was looking forward to seeing his wife and small son again.

But, as his plane taxied towards its stand, a passenger in the next seat switched on his mobile phone and said that a flight from Rio was missing.

‘Then he said it was Air France and I was very scared, ‘ says Fernando.

‘And when the crew called my name, I knew something really bad had happened. The way they treated me with so much concern, but not wanting to tell me anything, left me with no hope at all.’

Staff led Fernando and his daughter to an airport lounge, where other distraught relatives were gathering.
Alexander Bjoroy’s family learned of the crash at their home in Brazil, and broke the painful news to his younger sister, Charlotte. What had happened to their treasured child?

Hampering the search was the fact that no one knew the precise spot where the jet had disappeared. It had left Brazilian airspace, but had not radioed its next position.

In the hours and days after the crash, officials at Air France began to study a series of error messages sent by the plane’s automatic communications system via satellite, which indicated that it had experienced ‘multiple technical failures’ in its last minutes in the air.

What had gone wrong? An awful five days later, the shattered wreckage of Flight 447 was discovered, floating in the Atlantic 750 miles off the coast of Brazil. All 228 passengers and crew were dead.
Despite a £24 million search operation, the all-important black boxes could not be recovered.

No one was able to explain what had happened. To the anger of relatives, French investigators will not make a final report on the disaster until the black boxes are found.

But now, for the first time, the story behind this devastating air disaster can be told. A BBC2 documentary, Lost: The Mystery Of Flight 447, to be screened tomorrow night, has brought together leading aviation experts to conduct a forensic investigation into the crash.

Amazingly, they have been able to pinpoint exactly what happened on that fateful night, even though the aircraft left barely a trace when it crashed.

Furthermore, they are able to answer the question: could it happen again?

Tony Cable worked for the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch for 32 years. He was the senior investigator on the fatal Concorde crash in Paris ten years ago, and on the Lockerbie bombing.

‘The normal way of investigating an accident is to look at the crash site. In this case, though, there’s only a small amount of floating wreckage,’ he says.

‘The flight data and cockpit voice recorders are clearly at the bottom of the ocean with the rest of the wreckage – a very, very big handicap to the investigation.’

How, then, did the team begin? First, they eliminated the possibility of a terrorist attack.

‘The possibilities that immediately come to mind would be a bomb or a structural break-up,’ says Cable.
He drafted in John Cox, one of the world’s leading aviation safety consultants, and they pieced together the recovered aircraft parts to find out what forces acted on them in the last moments of flight.

This method was used to solve the mystery of TWA flight 800, which crashed off the coast of New York in 1996. By examining fragments of that fuselage, experts determined that faulty wiring had caused a fuel explosion.

Engineer Jim Wildey is a veteran of that investigation. Looking at the recovered parts from Flight 447, he made the first major breakthrough: the plane showed signs of a highspeed impact with the water.
‘The nose cone has been flattened, crushed and torn,’ he says. ‘This is a very clear sign that this piece was on the airplane when it hit the water.’

A floor section from the cargo compartment also revealed that the plane was level at the point of impact, and hit the water at speed.

It appears, then, that flight 447 didn’t explode in mid-air; it simply fell out of the sky. But if there was no explosion, what did happen?

The A330 is a jewel in the crown of European aerospace giant, Airbus. It had previously been considered extremely safe, with 700 in service around the world and not a single passenger fatality before Flight 447.
The plane uses a state-of-the-art fly-by-wire computerised control system, where mechanical levers are replaced by electronics. When the autopilot is switched on, the plane flies itself.

‘Ninety-nine per cent of the time when you’re sitting as a passenger flying at 35,000 feet, the autopilot is flying the aeroplane,’ says Captain Martin Alder, former chairman of the British Airline Pilots’ Flights Safety Group.

Using Air Traffic Control transcripts, Cable has been able to piece together the last devastating moments in the cockpit.

He believes that flight 447 would have been on autopilot as it headed out over the Atlantic, with Captain Marc Dubois, 58, and his co-pilot standing by. Three hours out from Rio de Janeiro, Flight 447 was still on track.
The last crew conversation with on-ground controllers was routine. The co-pilot called out the plane’s position using the internationally recognised phonic alphabet: ‘Charlie Papa Hotel Quebec.’

But at 1.35am, all radio communications ceased. But for another 35 minutes, Flight 447’s computer continued to send out automatic position reports by satellite to the Air France base at Charles de Gaulle airport.

A last reading showed a location at 2.10am, 70 miles from where the wreckage was discovered.

So what brought down the plane? Looking through meteorological data, the team discovered that there was a thunderstorm in the area at the time. But why would experienced pilots fly into a storm?

‘The idea that a pilot would fly through a thunderstorm – no, absolutely not,’ says aviation safety expert John Cox.

Several other flights that night took the same route as Flight 447, but the pilots made detours of up to 90 miles to avoid the storm system, which towered to an altitude of 50,000ft.

The investigating team believes that a smaller storm in front of the larger weather front confused the flight’s radar system, so that the crew did not see the thunderstorm coming.

It meant they had no choice but to ride out the turbulence. The pilot would have slowed down the engines – the standard method for flying through such conditions.

At 2.10am – the plane’s last known position – it appears that Flight 447 entered a rapidly developing storm system that its radar detected too late. A little more than four minutes later, everyone on board was dead.
So what happened in those critical intervening minutes? Just after 2.10am, the flight computer sent a torrent of automatic fault messages to Air France in Paris.

Called by one pilot ‘the last will and testament of the aircraft’, these messages show that Flight 447 suffered 24 critical faults in just four minutes and 16 seconds.

The first message showed that the autopilot had switched itself off, so the pilot had to take manual control. Then the systems controlling air speed and altitude failed.

In the cockpit, instrumental display screens would have gone blank, and flight-control computers would have died. One by one, the most critical safety features in the cockpit failed.

‘It must have been a very busy and confusing situation on the flight deck,’ says Cable.

It is a harrowing image, indeed. The cockpit would have filled with a multitude of audio and visual alarms, while the pilots desperately fought a losing battle to control the aircraft and keep it in the air as it was buffeted by a gigantic thunderstorm.

A final, ominous warning was sent by the plane to Paris: the Advisory Cabin Vertical Speed message, which means that the aircraft was descending at a high rate.

This last, terrifying message came just before Flight 447 and its passengers hit the water at hundreds of miles an hour. But what could have caused all the vital automatic systems to malfunction at once?

It appears that the three pitot tubes (speed sensors) failed simultaneously. It could be that they were unable to cope with the storm conditions facing Flight 447.

Accident investigators believe that super-cooled water in the clouds – well below freezing, but too pure to turn into ice – could have disabled the pitot probes.

Cable has discovered that since 2003, there have been 36 incidents involving frozen pitot tube on A330s or the similar A340s.

Indeed, in 2007, Airbus recommended a refit of all A330s with upgraded pitots. Flight 447 had not yet been refitted.

With no airspeed data, Flight 447’s automatic systems would have collapsed one by one – which is exactly what happened.

It seems that in total darkness, and in the midst of a storm, the crew were forced to retake manual control of the plane.

John Cox explains how the pilots would have been bombarded with confusing information, saying: ‘That crew faced an almost unheard of series of failures, one right behind the other.’

The most immediate danger was that the airplane would stall, which would lead to a sudden, uncontrollable descent (it had already slowed suddenly to cope with the turbulence).

Cox says: ‘There is a good possibility that at some point in the last four minutes, it did stall.’

An unlucky series of events caused the accident, then, culminating in the automated systems failing and engines stalling.

Used to flying with high levels of automation, it seems the pilots did not have the skills to recover the situation.

Tragically, from the way the airline hit the water – nose up, with wings level – it appears that the crew may have come close to saving their passengers’ lives.

It is likely they were recovering the situation but ran out of time, and suffered a second, and this time terminal, stall.

More than that, we will probably never know.

The airplane’s black boxes, recording the last moments in the cockpit, stopped transmitting location signals after one month. Efforts to find them using imaging sonar continue.

So could such a tragedy happen again? Cable certainly believes that Flight 447 raises some vital issues for airlines.

‘It has raised the question about whether the situation is actually being made worse by the increase in automation, whereby crews don’t get a great deal of opportunity to manually fly the aircraft,’ he says.

Airbus has also been criticised for not yet replacing all pitot probes in its fleet. In the face of new evidence, it maintains that even if they fail, pilots should be able to operate the plane.

A terrifying technical disaster, then, and one that led to a very human tragedy.

Alexander Bjoroy’s parents held a memorial service for him last year, paying tribute to their son, saying: ‘The world was his home. Alexander embraced other cultures and respected them greatly.

‘He loved to travel and see and experience new places and people. We were very fortunate to share so many marvellous experiences together in his short life.’

The body of Swedish national Christine Schnabl was one of 51 recovered, but her five-year-old son Philipe was never found. She was not wearing a life jacket – it seems there was no time.

Her husband, Fernando, is preparing an album of pictures and cuttings to give to their daughter Celine when she is old enough to understand. One day, he hopes, he will be able to give her more answers.

For now, however, he simply tells her that her mother and brother have gone to a ‘good place in the sky’.

Article Source: Daily Mail


The search for Air France 447 has ended

by Jonathan on May 25, 2010

It’s all over. Investigators have ended the search for Air France flight 447’s flight data and voice recorders. Alain Guilldou, a spokesman for the BEA confirmed that the search for the wreckage and black boxes of AF447 was called off last night. The lease on the robot submarines onboard the Seabed Worker search vessel have run out and the robots will be returned to their owners in the United States.

The search will end with over 200 square miles of ocean floor left unexplored.

At this moment, there are no plans for another search.

Here is the article from Business Week:

May 25 (Bloomberg) — Investigators probing the crash of an Air France plane off Brazil last year ended their search for its flight recorders with 200 square miles of ocean floor unexplored after misinterpreted data sent them on a six-day detour.

The hunt for the so-called black boxes was called off last night as leases run out on the robot submarines carried by the search vessel Seabed Worker, Alain Guilldou, a spokesman for France’s BEA air-accident investigation bureau, said yesterday.

The ship’s sweep of a zone identified as the likely site of the Airbus SAS A330 wreck was put on hold after analysis of 10 month-old recordings made after the June 1 crash suggested it should switch to a site 40 miles (74 kilometers) away. When later studies showed the sounds probably weren’t from the jet’s “pingers,” almost a week of search time had already been lost.

“As a consequence we won’t be able to cover the last area,” BEA President Jean-Paul Troadec said last week in an interview at the bureau’s headquarters outside Paris. The Seabed Worker will return to port this week so that its two submarines can be returned to their owner in the U.S., he said.

Air France Flight 447 crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 people on board. While early findings suggested that the plane’s speed sensors gave false readings when it encountered poor weather, the BEA had said it needed the black boxes in order to establish the crash’s definitive cause.

While Guilldou said a further search hasn’t been ruled out, the probe may now have to rely on other evidence. About 1,000 items of debris and 50 bodies have been recovered.

Third Attempt

This week’s pullback marks the end of a third unsuccessful attempt to locate the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

With only the wide-body plane’s last-known coordinates to go on, together with a series of automated maintenance messages suggesting an impact about five minutes later, the BEA drew up an initial search area of almost 6,700 square miles.

During the month in which the flight-recorder pingers were expected to transmit, the zone was scanned by U.S. Navy sonars towed behind two tugs and by a French nuclear submarine.

The submarine, the Emeraude, was ill-equipped for detecting high-pitched noise from the black boxes, having been designed to track lower-frequency sounds from enemy vessels, French Navy spokesman Hugues Du Plessis d’Argentre said in an interview.

Only when the recordings were enhanced with the help of Thales SA, the defense-electronics company already involved in the probe as the supplier of the speed sensors, were traces of suspected pinger signals found in data gathered on July 1.

Computer Models

France’s defense ministry went public with the findings on May 6. Days later the Seabed Worker was diverted away from a search zone identified by oceanographers who had used computer models to plot the plane’s likely point of impact based on the position of floating debris and data on sea currents.

The vessel subsequently found no trace of the black boxes in the new zone, and Troadec said he’s not convinced that the Emeraude’s recordings ever came from the pingers.

“They can be confused with a certain number of other systems,” the investigator said in the interview on May 18.

A search using towed sonars alone would have in any case been impossible, with the only two units in the world able to work at the necessary depths already enlisted, Troadec said. Given that the devices can cover no more than 30 square miles a day and that the pingers’ battery life was three or four weeks, 10 would have been needed to scour the area, he said.

“The Emeraude was an additional resource,” Troadec said. “If it hadn’t been there, we probably wouldn’t have been able to cover the zone anyway.”


The search for AF447 continues

by Jonathan on May 12, 2010

From the Associated Press:

The French accident investigation agency says a search in a new area of the Atlantic for the Air France plane that crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris has turned up nothing.

The zone was located by analyzing signals from the plane’s black boxes, which are still unrecovered.

The investigating agency said in a statement Wednesday that nothing was found in the ocean depths.

The conclusion came just two days after the agency said the plane, which crashed June 1, 2009, could be found by Wednesday.

Investigators say they have decided to return to the original search zone, northwest of the last known airplane position — while continuing to determine the accuracy of the black box signals, which long ago died out.

The BEA issued the following press release today:

Exploration of the new search zone, which resulted from work undertaken by the French Navy, has continued at a speed that has been hampered by technical problems, which occurred during the dives carried out by the two Remus (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles).

After ensuring optimal coverage of the entire exploration zone, the BEA has decided to start searching again in the initial search zone located to the north-west of the last known airplane position. The Seabed Worker should reach the zone tonight.

However, the BEA, in collaboration with teams from the French Navy, will continue to work on the accuracy of the data communicated by the Ministry of Defense.

The BEA will give a further update on the situation with a press release on Monday 17 May 2010.

This is really getting frustrating. They should simply keep searching and not give us any high hopes. If they’re going to conduct a search operation, they should conduct the operation until the end, without issuing press releases saying that they’re pretty sure that the wreckage is going to be located in a certain area while they aren’t 100% sure.

Associated Press
BEA Press Release


Air France A330-200 F-GZCP

According to an annonymous French government official, Air France flight 447 may have been trying to return to Brazil when it crashed into the Atlantic. The new developement was reported by the French newspaper Le Figaro on Friday.

The new search area is located about 23 miles (37 kilometers) south-west of the last know location of the Airbus A330 on the night of June 1. According to the government official, “that means it was lost and according to procedures, should have turned around, either to leave a storm are or head back to Brazil”.

To Air France pilots who were interviewed on Thursday night, the new search location isn’t a definitive indication that the plane had turned around to head back to Brazil or to leave the storm. To them, it could be a sign that the plane stalled and went into a spin before crashing into the ocean.

Yesterday investigators revealed that they had narrowed down the area where they believed the black boxes might be located. The areas where they were previously searching were located north of the last known location of AF447.

For more information you can read Le Figaro (French). For an Engligh translation, go to the above link, copy the contents of the article and paste it in your favorite translation engine. For some reason, Google Translate wouldn’t translate the entire URL for me.


May 6 BEA press release on AF447

by Jonathan on May 6, 2010

The BEA issued the following press release today:

The French Navy Staff Headquarters this morning provided the BEA with the results of the latest analysis of the audio recordings made by the submarine Emeraude during the first phase of underwater searches. These results were obtained very recently and made it possible to define a zone of a few dozen square kilometres in which the airplane wreckage may be found.

Given this latest information, the BEA has decided to extend the searches to this zone. It is in fact situated two hours sailing time to the south of the position of the ship that is currently exploring the area north-west of the last known position of the airplane. Searches will begin there tomorrow morning.

In relation to these developments, the BEA will provide an update on the situation in its offices at Le Bourget on Monday 10 May between 14 h and 15 h. Journalists who wish to attend are requested to confirm their presence as soon as possible to Martine Del Bono, preferably by email.

Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses


Divers recover stabilizer from Air France aircraft on June 8, 2009 (click to enlargen)

Today, I woke up to the great news that the black boxes of Air France flight 447 had been found. I jumped out of my bed in excitement to read all the news stories about this great find only to be kind of let down. They haven’t actually found the black boxes. Instead, they’ve located the zone of where the black boxes may be; they’re still unsure if they will be able to retrieve it, and it’s not 100% certain that the boxes are even there since it isn’t emitting signals or hasn’t been actually seen.

Nearly a year after those 228 people lost their lives, investigators have narrowed down the area where they believed the black boxes might be located. According to French Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Christian Baptiste, researchers believe that the area is about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers). Investigators used software to re-analyze sonar recordings that were picked up in the weeks following the crash, when the black box’s pingers were still emitting signals. Previous analyses of the recordings failed to pick up those signals.

“Does this mean we will find the black boxes? We are far from certainty,” Baptiste told a news conference.

Speaking on France-info radio, government spokesman Luc Chatel said “we should remain extremely prudent for the moment”.

“It would obviously be very good news for everyone, first for the families of the victims of the flight, and then for all of us, because it has been one year that we have been waiting with impatience to find out what really happened on the Rio-Paris flight,” he said.

BEA spokeswoman, Martine Del Bono said that the BEA is working on checking and validating this information.

New York TimesAssociated PressFrance 24


The BEA, Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, issued a press release today with updates on phase 3 of the search for Air France flight 447’s wreckage and flight data recorders. After about a month of searching, phase 3 of the search has produced nothing.

There will be a continuation of Phase 3 of the search that will extend until around May 25. Both Air France and Airbus are each contributing 1.5 million euros ($1.9 million) to this extension of the phase 3 search efforts.

This continuation of phase 3 will be done with fewer ships and equipment. The U.S Navy’s ROV’s and sonar, will now be unavailable because they are being mobilized for a military operation. Also, one of the AUV, the one belonging to Geomar, will not be available for this continuation phase.

The search will be continued with the Norwegian ship the Seabed Worker, and two AUVs.

The BEA is still optimistic and believes that it is still possible to locate the flight data recorders.

Click here to read the BEA press release.

Thanks to Gus for the tip on the press release.


Search ships head to new AF447 search zone

by Jonathan on March 30, 2010

REMUS 6000Two search ships have left the city of Recife, Brazil and are on their way to the location of the third search for debris and flight and data recorders of Air France flight 447.

Flight 447 crashed in the Atlantic last on June 1 while traveling from Brazil to France, killing all 228 on board.

The two search ships, a U.S. and Norwegian, left Recife on Monday and are expected travel for 2 days before reaching the search zone.

This new search will last approximately 30 days and will use sonar equipped robot submarines and sonar machines dragged on cables underwater to search an area over 770-square miles.

The Autonomous undersea vehicles will be operated from the Norwegian ship, the M/V Seabed Worker, which will also be equipped with the Triton XLX remotely operated vehicle. The M/V Anne Candies, a ship out of New Orleans, will be used to tow the side scan sonar Orion and the CURV21 ROV, which will both be operated for the U.S. Navy by Phoenix International.

The autonomous underwater vehicles used in this search are designed and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institue in Massachusetts. They are called REMUS 6000 and have incredible capabilities.

The vehicles can operate in depths up to 19,685 feet or 3.73 miles (6000 meters) and can remain submerged for up to 20 hours at a time, and the are estimated to scan about 30 square miles per day.

Last week, BEA head Jean-Paul Troadec said that there was a good chance of finding the wreckage of flight 447.

Locating the flight data and voice recorders is crucial to solving the mystery of flight 447.

Associated Press
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Photo: Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


Relatives of AF447 Victims Sue in United States

by Jonathan on March 30, 2010

Some relatives of passengers killed in the crash of Air France flight 447 have filled wrongful death lawsuits against Airbus, alleging that the Airbus A330 crashed because of flaws in the plane and its U.S. made components.

The lawsuits were filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami by Podhurst Orseck, a law firm which specializes in aviation litigation.

23 lawsuits were filed and Podhurst Orseck expects to file 10 more within the new few weeks.

The lawsuits come just as a third search to locate the black boxes were launched by Air France, the BEA, and Airbus.

The lawsuits assert that flight 447 crashed because design and manufacturing defects left the pilots without accurate data to maintain altitude and air speed.

Defendents in the lawsuits include Airbus, France’s Thale’s Group and their U.S. subsidiaries. Also named in the lawsuits are U.S. companies Honeywell international, Motorola Inc, Intel Corp, Rockwell Collins, Hamilton Sunstrand Corp, General Electric, Goodrich Corp, Rosemount Aerospace, Dupont Co, Judd Wire Co, and Raychem Co.

Airbus called the lawsuit baseless. “We don’t believe that they are well stated or well founded,” said Airbus America’s spokesman Clay McConnell. “We will be moving to have them dismissed.”

Click here to read Podhurst Orseck’s press release regarding the lawsuits.

Source: Reuters