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Air France disaster not caused by single factor, analysts say

June 23rd, 2009

AF 447 debris aboard Brazilian Navy corvette Cabloclo. Photo Brazilian Navy, Agencia Brasil

AF 447 debris aboard Brazilian Navy corvette Cabloclo. Photo: Brazilian Navy, Agencia Brasil

As the crew of a French Navy submarine races against the clock to recover flight data recorders from an Air France jet lost over the Atlantic Ocean last month, aviation analysts say while the ‘black boxes’ remain the best hope of uncovering what happened, people shouldn’t expect there to be a single cause, even if they are found.

The Airbus A330 bound for Paris left Rio de Janeiro’s Antonio Carlos Jobim airport at around 19:00 local time (23:00 GMT) on May 31, but then some three and half hours later lost radio contact.

On Tuesday, following a media report claiming weak signals from the black boxes have been detected, the French air incident investigation bureau (BEA) issued a brief statement.

“No signals transmitted by the flight recorders’ locator beacons have been validated up to now and work is undertaken on a regular basis that is aimed at eliminating any doubts related to any sounds that may be heard, and findings will be made public,” the statement said.

Though officials say it’s much too early to establish what lays behind the incident, speculation has centred on whether faulty speed sensors caused the plane to go down in stormy conditions.

Minutes before the plane went missing, it sent out around two dozen automated messages, providing contradictory information about the plane’s airspeed.

Bill Voss spent 23 years at the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and was director of the Air Navigation Bureau at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“The public tends to assume that everything can be broken down into one single fact and that’s only in the movies,” said Voss, who is now president of the Flight Safety Foundation, an aviation safety advocacy organisation.

If investigators are eventually able to shed light on what happened, answers are likely to involve interplay between the environment, the weather, which is no longer being talked about, as well as the interaction of the aircraft’s automation and the pilot, Voss added.

Black box maker Honeywell has said it is confident the devices will be found, though batteries only last around 30 days, leaving about a week to bring them to the surface.

Search for answers

Colorado-based aviation expert Micheal Boyd says while the black box is a crucial piece in the jigsaw,  significant amounts of debris, including the galley picked up so far may give investigators enough to piece together what happened.

“It’s usually a number of things coming together that have never come together before and may never come together again,” he said.

Since the incident, flight safety monitoring equipment makers have been promoting awareness of their products, with one telling this website that its satellite-based trends monitoring system probably would have prevented the disaster.

Air France says it is unable to comment on the matter under French law and is referring the media to the BEA, which so far has not responded to a request for information on that issue.

However, analysts such as Chris Yates, an industry consultant and aviation security editor at Jane’s Information Group in London disagree.

“I wouldn’t say there is nothing new about this,”he said. “But after twenty years in this business no one has the ultimate answer to the holy grail.”

Yates’s sentiments were echoed by Voss.

“I think that it’s unlikely that any trend monitoring system could have told us what we need to improve on  and that’s why I so hope we do get the black boxes because they will give us the information to really illuminate the whole story,” he said.

Twenty-three days into the recovery operation, though a body hasn’t been found in the past week, possible fresh sightings of debris are spurring the hunt for evidence.

“Unfortunately, the possibility [of finding new bodies] is reducing. All the same for the moment the search is going to continue”, Frigate Captain Tabosa Giucemar, a Brazilian Navy spokesperson said.

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Air France loved ones face identification anguish

June 10th, 2009

Photo: Brazilian Navy, Agencia Brasil

Brazilian Federal Police working with Interpol agents are expected to use pictures taken from airport closed circuit television to help identify bodies of passengers of Air France flight AF447 recovered from the Atlantic Ocean.

Investigators will also try to use dental records and DNA tests to confirm identities, as a French Navy submarine arrives in the area where the plane is believed to have gone down to join the search.

By 19:47 local time (22:47 GMT) on Tuesday, the Brazilian Navy had pulled 41 bodies from the sea, in addition to a large section of the Airbus 330-200’s tail plane from waters 1000 kilometres (600 miles) north-east of Brazil’s Fernando da Noronha islands.

Because passengers of more than 30 nationalities were on the plane, international police force Interpol will lead the identification process.

The plane bound for Paris left Rio de Janeiro’s Antonio Carlos Jobim airport with 228 passengers and crew on board at around 19:00 local time (23:00 GMT) on May 31, but then some three and half hours later lost radio contact.

Though officials say it’s much too early to establish the cause, speculation has centred on whether faulty speed sensors caused the plane to go down in stormy conditions.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva earlier insisted Brazil will do everything it can to find the passengers’ remains.

“At this painful moment finding the bodies will not resolve the problem, but it will bring immense comfort to the families,” he said.

But the families’ legal plight may be complicated by Brazilian laws that assume there is no death without a body, meaning they may have to get a court judge to declare the death of their loved ones.

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Missing Rio-Paris flight relatives search for news

June 1st, 2009

Photo: Air France

Brazilian TV and other media have shown pictures of worried family and friends in search of information about passengers on board flight AF 447 from Rio de Janeiro, which disappeared as it headed for Paris.

It has been suggested the plane with 228 people on board may have been struck by lightning, though experts say this is usually not enough to bring a modern passenger jet down.

The Airbus A330, left Rio de Janeiro on Sunday at 7 p.m. local time, (11pm GMT-6 p.m EDT), but around four hours later, the plane sent an automatic signal indicating electrical problems while going through heavy turbulence.

Those connected to passengers on the Air France flight have so far had difficulty obtaining information, according to government news agency Agencia Brasil.

When relations and those connected to passengers on the Air France flight arrived at Rio de Janeiro’s Antonio Carlos Jobim airport they found the airline’s counter closed and were directed to a sitation room put in place by the Brazilian airport authorities agency (Infraero).

“I came to the airport because I wasn’t able to get any information and my parents are very anxious,” one relation in search of news told the news agency.

Brazilian Air Force jets have been scouring waters around Fernando da Noronha off the North-East coast of the country for any potential signs of wreckage.

Air France has set up special free telephone numbers for relatives.

The numbers are:
0800 800 812 in France
0800 881 20 20 in Brazil,
and + 33 1 57 02 10 55 for calls from all other countries.

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