Topic of the Week: Air France Wreckage Found

Accidents/Incidents, Air France

It looks like search teams have found most of the wreckage from the Air France flight that went down off the coast of Brazil back in 2009. Anyone want to guess what they’ll be able to figure out from this?

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13 comments on “Topic of the Week: Air France Wreckage Found

  1. The answer may turn out to be ‘NOT MUCH’.

    I have two concerns about the FDR and CVR even if they are recovered. We have already had several accidents in which the data from both recorders was never captured because of complete loss of electrical power on the aircraft prior to impact.

    The secondary issue is just how tolerant the storage system is to 2 years of salt water exposure at deep ocean depth/pressure. This is an area where the old magnetic tape storage materials may have been crude by current technology standards, but was in fact remarkably robust.

    It remains to be determined just how robust the storage is under these conditions. Salt water and electronics is a bad combination. I don’t believe the recorders are designed to survive long term immersion in salt water at depths of several thousand meters.

    So I am not holding my breath for dramatic revelations in the near term. The FDR and CVR haven’t been found, and it isn’t clear that the really interesting ‘stuff’ was recorded, or that even if recorded, it has survived the accident and a couple years near the bottom of the ocean in salt water…

  2. I agree with Matt, it will though be interesting to learn how the FDR & CDR have made out in these conditions so that the next generation might be made more durable. And, as the old adage goes, any new information gleaned might shed light on this mystery.

  3. I had not heard about them finding wreckage. But what a sad topic to end the week with, the reminder of the death of 200+ people.

    From the wreckage they should be able to tell from what part of the plane did or did not cause a problem like an explosion or something.

  4. I’m guessing that if they find the flight recorders they’ll just confirm the theories that have already been proposed. The accident was probably similar to what happened to China Airlines flight 006, where a slight mechanical problem combined with poor crew resource management almost led to disaster. Here they most likely had non-critical mechanical problem + CRM difficulties + horrible turbulence and weather which together was enough to cause this accident.

  5. I was just watching the Nova special on this a couple of weeks ago. I agree it may be tough to discern a whole lot because of the salt water but I think the forensics people will find enough to point to the pitot static system like it has on other A330s.

  6. @Sean: On what basis do you make the claim that poor crew resource management contributed to the crash of AF447? That seems like complete speculation to me.

    1. @Rahul, The theory I mentioned is detailed in the Nova special on flight 447.

      It is speculation.

      However it’s speculation based on the few facts known about the case and the historical causes of aviation accidents. The two main “facts” known about the case are:
      1. The Pitot tubes failed, depriving the plane of altitude and speed information. and
      2. The plane impacted the water belly first and intact.

      Pitot tube failure alone shouldn’t be enough to bring down an airliner, and the plane hitting the water belly first indicates that it was likely in a controllable state. Combine these two together and there has to be another factor in the accident chain that brought the plane down. Looking at historical aviation accidents where a controllable plane crashes, pilot error becomes a possible cause.

      The example I cited above was China Airlines flight 006. In that incident a simple engine problem started a chain of events that led to the plane plunging more 32,000 feet in just a few minutes, because of a combination of simple mistakes made by the crew.

      One of the theories proposed by the Nova documentary was quite similar. They proposed that with the Pitot tube failure combined with extreme turbulence the crew became too focused on the error messages they were receiving from related systems that they didn’t perform the actions suitable to a Pitot tube failure mode (going to 80% thrust with 5 degrees vertical trim), leading the plane into an unrecoverable stall.

      All of this is speculation, but it’s speculation based on the known facts of the accident.

  7. Frankly, I found that there is a lot of money able to be spent in tragedy. How many millions spent on this second effort? Couldn’t be spent on research for better technology?

    1. You could argue that the money spent on the search is money being spent on better technology. They need to find out what happened to the plane to know what better technology could have prevented the accident.

  8. The article states that a judge handed down a preliminary decision that Airbus can be charged with manslaughter due to this case. Now THAT is a topic for a Friday discussion. Seems ridiculous to me.

  9. What this will give the investigators is more data – data on how the airplane came apart and information on the wreckage itself, which can say a lot about the accident. It’s VERY premature to discuss pilot error. Don’t forget they were in an area of severe thunderstorms when they began receiving erroneous airspeed information. That is a significant factor that needs to be considered, in my opinion. There seem to be a number of contributing factors that made the situation the pilots faced very difficult and complicated. I hope the FDR and CVR are both recoverable and have retrievable data. This is an accident that pilots can learn a lot from.

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