Some Thoughts on the Air France A330 Accident Off Brazil

It’s been well over 24 hours since we first heard that an Air France A330 disappeared over the ocean on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. In that time, I’ve seen a million different theories about what happened, and that always makes me angry. We have no idea what happened here, and really, we’ll be lucky if we ever find out. Here’s what we do know about the accident.

  • Air France #447, operated by a 4-year-old A330, left Rio at 703p bound for Paris
  • The airplane was off the coast of Brazil, beyond radar coverage when it hit some rough weather
  • Something bad happened and a bunch of technical faults were automatically sent to Air France, but the pilots never sent a distress message
  • The plane never arrived in Paris

Really, that’s all we know. And remember, while there were storms in the area alongside reports of strong turbulence, we have nothing to indicate that turbulence caused the accident. Also, those automated technical fault messages that were received by Air France stating that there had been an electrical problem and pressurization was lost (among other things)? Even if that did happen (false reports are always possible), we still have no clue why any of that happened, and there could be a million explanations.

There were no distress calls from the pilots, and I can only think of three reasons that might happen. Either the radios failed (highly unlikely), the pilots did this on purpose (even more unlikely), or it happened so fast that there wasn’t even time for a radio call (most likely). It makes me sick just thinking about what it was like on that plane toward the end.

I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t going to end up like the TV show “Lost.” This airplane is likely in a million pieces scattered on and in the Atlantic Ocean. At some point, search teams will find a debris field, and they might be able to put together some fact-based theories. But the true jewel here will be the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder; the so-called black boxes. Those might be at the bottom of the ocean, but hopefully they’ll be recovered with good data still retrievable. Without those, it’s going to be incredibly hard to figure out what really happened.

Right now, the list of suspects is long, and it’s certainly baffling. Airplanes just don’t fall out of the sky, not even during severe turbulence. There were other airplanes flying through the area that made it safely, and I’m sure those pilots will be interviewed. For example, Iberia 6024 left Rio for Madrid 20 minutes after the Air France flight. Lufthansa 507 left Sao Paulo for Frankfurt about half an hour before the Air France flight, so they might have been fairly close to each other. Air France itself had another A330 leave Sao Paulo for Paris only 27 minutes later. And these are just some of the aircraft in the neighborhood.

Hopefully we will learn more about what happened here, because none of the theories that keep being flung out there by the media seem to make sense on their own. As always, this will end up being a series of different problems that come together to form a true catastrophe.

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