Air France 447 – Investigators: Missing A330’s ACARS sent 24 error messages

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By David Kaminski-Morrow

French investigators have disclosed that the missing Air France Airbus A330‘s ACARS communication system transmitted 24 error messages ahead of the flight’s disappearance on 1 June.

Fourteen of those messages, says the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, were sent within the space of one minute, from 02:10UTC to 02:11UTC.

At a briefing in Paris today the BEA confirmed that the ACARS messages showed “inconsistencies” between measured velocities and indications of systems failures including the autothrust and autopilot.

It said the transmission of routine ACARS signals every 10min during the flight would give the inquiry a degree of certainty about its track.

But BEA director Paul-Louis Arslanian cautioned over the value of the error signals received, stating that they were “not designed for investigations” and only gave an indication as to the status of particular systems.

Arslanian says that while a connection between the signals and the loss of flight AF447 “would appear probable”, there was no confirmation of “causality between the messages and the accident”.

The BEA, he adds, is still collating information including radar data from Brazil while the search effort continues to locate the flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders.

Nathan Zalcman/
© Nathan Zalcman/

During the briefing a representative of France’s Service Hydrographique et Oceanographique de la Marine (SHOM) explained the scale of the task in finding the sonic beacons attached to each recorder.

He says there is “limited knowledge” of the terrain in the area – east of the mid-Atlantic dorsal chain – while ocean currents since the day of the accident have been drifting eastwards. The beacons transmit a 37.5kHz signal with an intensity of 160dB but, given they could be at 4,000m depth, the search teams on the surface would have to be “almost on top” of them to pick this up.

Arslanian also points out that the BEA “cannot guarantee” that the beacons have not separated from the recorders.

While the region in which the aircraft disappeared, the Intertropical Convergence Zone, is characterised by cumulonimbus cloud and thunderstorm activity as a result of unstable wind patterns, Meteo France deputy director Alain Ratier told the briefing that the weather systems on 1 June were “normal” with “no anomalies”.

“If you look at the three or four days surrounding the accident, there was more intense development before and after than on the night of the flight itself,” he says, adding that at 02:15UTC the growth phase of the local cumulonimbus had already passed and the clouds were in the “lower end” of their cycle.

“We cannot conclude that this situation was exceptional,” he says. “There was no unusual intensity or strength.”


Air France 447 – Brazil bids to reduce confusion over A330 search progress

Air France 447 – Search for downed plane highlights ocean trash problem

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By John D. Sutter

— The massive amount of garbage in the ocean likely complicates the search for the remains of an Air France flight that went missing Monday near Brazil, oceanographers who spoke with CNN said.

Trash clutters the world's oceans, as shown here in a file photo near Hong Kong.

Trash clutters the world’s oceans, as shown here in a file photo near Hong Kong.

Earlier this week, investigators said they had located pieces of the plane in the southern Atlantic Ocean, which might have given them clues to the origin of Air France Flight 447’s crash.

But on Thursday, Brazilian officials said what they had found was nothing more than run-of-the-mill ocean trash.

This highlights a little-seen environmental problem: Scientists say the world’s oceans are increasingly filled with junk — everything from large items like refrigerators and abandoned yachts to small stuff like plastic bottles.

Much of the ocean trash is plastic, which means it won’t go away for hundreds of years, if ever. And the problem has gotten so bad that soupy “garbage patches” have developed in several locations, called gyres, where ocean currents swirl.

One of them is estimated to be the size of Texas.

There are about five or six major trash-collecting gyres in the world’s oceans, with the most famous located in the Pacific Ocean about midway between North America and Asia, experts said. Trash collects at these locations, where ocean currents swirl, and forms a gunk of small plastic pieces. See a map of Pacific Ocean debris »

There is not a major “trash island” near the site of the Air France plane crash in the south Atlantic, oceanographers said, but splitting currents do create a smaller area for trash to congregate.

“That area [of the crash site] has got lots of debris that’s just out there, coming from Europe heading over the Americas,” said Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a oceanographer and author of a book called “Flatsometrics and the Floating World.” “And it’s notoriously difficult to spot debris from the air.”

The south Atlantic near Brazil is driven by two currents, one that pushes debris to the north, along the coast of Florida, and one that would push it to the south, perhaps all the way to the tip of South America, he said. So the plane’s wreckage could span that massive area, he said.

Most debris from the crash of Air France Flight 447 would head toward Brazil and arrive within a couple of months; but wherever the remnants land, the plane debris would be difficult to distinguish from the mountains of trash that wash up on beaches every day, Ebbesmeyer said.

“The trouble is that there is so much debris on eastern Florida that’s from South America. Anywhere, it’s very unlikely that anyone will recover [the plane debris],” he said. “It’s very likely that debris that would provide closure for loved ones would go in the Dumpster because [beachgoers] don’t know what it is.”

The search for signs of the Air France flight highlights what environmentalists say is a pressing issue for the world today: We produce a lot of trash that biodegrades slowly, and too much of it ends up in the ocean. Out at sea, plastics suffocate sea turtles and choke birds, which look at the bits of floating gunk as food.

Endangered sea turtles become entangled in discarded fishing line and also ingest plastic bags, like those from grocery stores, said Bamford.

“They love to eat jellyfish, and when they see a plastic bag it looks exactly like a jellyfish, basically,” she said.

Still, scientists say they know relatively little about the scope of the problem and the effects that trash has on ocean life.

Finding answers to those unknowns is among the current initiatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Holly Bamford, director of the U.S. agency’s marine debris program.

Enough is known about ocean trash to know that it’s time to act, she said.

“It’s a global problem. You can go do a collection almost anywhere and you’ll probably come up with a piece of debris in your sample. The question is what all is out there and what is it doing,” she said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”

About 80 percent of the trash that ends up in the ocean starts on land and is swept out to sea either from beaches or through waterways and sewer systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The garbage can make its way to the ocean via rivers from the very heart of a continent, Bamford said.

Once it hits the sea, ocean currents — and to a lesser extent, wind — determine where the trash goes. Since the mid-1900s, people have been making plastic, which decomposes much more slowly than other materials.

International treaties ban ship captains from dumping their trash into the sea, scientists said, but the rules are not well-enforced.

Education is the key to preventing trash from ending up in the ocean in the first place, said Peter Niiler, an oceanographer and distinguished researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Niiler said too little is known about the oceans, and there are gross misconceptions about their size.

“I think the [idea of an] ocean being an infinitely large thing comes from the fact that you’ve never been there or you don’t have data from there. You don’t know what’s there. So you’re just living on the coast and you can’t hardly imagine going from North America to China,” he said.

He added: “The ocean is just like land. It’s part of our whole ecosystem of the whole earth. We know a great deal about land but we know very little about the oceans.”

While they aren’t likely to help with the plane search, volunteer groups seek to collect trash before it hits the ocean and is swept away to a garbage patch. The Ocean Conservancy says it organizes the largest of these efforts. Last year, 400,000 volunteers from 100 countries collected trash off of the beaches, preventing it from harming the ocean, said Tom McCann, a spokesman for the group.

“It’s entirely preventable,” he said of the problem of trash in the ocean. “It’s something we can solve ourselves.”

Air France 447 – Flight 447 crash could join list of mysteries

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By Craig Johnson
Special to CNN

— As the possibility decreases that investigators will learn what happened to Air France Flight 447 on Monday over the Atlantic Ocean, the chance of it entering the folklore of mystery crashes grows.

What happened to Amelia Earhart, whose plane vanished over the ocean in 1937, has been an enduring mystery.

What happened to Amelia Earhart, whose plane vanished over the ocean in 1937, has been an enduring mystery.

Brazilian air force officials still have not identified debris from the Airbus A330, and a former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board official said currents would be scattering any debris from the flight over an increasing area, reducing the probability of finding the jetliner’s voice and flight data recorders.

Experts said lack of answers about what happened to Flight 447 could give it a lasting place in the public consciousness, like TWA Flight 800.

Flight 800, headed to Paris, France, from New York, crashed into the Atlantic off Long Island in 1996, killing all 230 people aboard. Initially speculating that the plane was the target of a terrorist attack, the NTSB in 2000 released a report citing a short circuit around the center wing fuel tank as the probable cause.

The exact cause still has not been determined, and several other explanations have been offered over the years.

Clint V. Oster Jr., a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, said that while the public may more readily process a single explanation, the reality is that many crashes are the result of compound difficulties.

“Many crashes don’t have a single cause, but rather are the result of a complex sequence of events involving multiple failures. Understanding how these multiple factors interacted to cause the crash can be difficult,” said Oster, co-author of “Why Airplanes Crash: Aviation Safety in a Changing World.”

Pilot and author Phaedra Hise of Richmond, Virginia, said a love of mysteries multiplied by the fact that air travel still captivates the public keeps fascination high.

“If [John F. Kennedy Jr.] had died in a car crash, there would not be the same level of fascination. Aviation for a lot of people is still pretty magical,” said Hise, author of “Anatomy of a Plane Crash.”

“If you don’t know how [a plane] works, it’s pretty magical; this huge thing takes flight. It’s just a big mystery. There’s a lot of romance with that, a lot of drama,” Hise said. “The people who fly them are considered brave and have a lot of heart. And people just don’t understand, so many people just don’t understand, how airplanes work.”

A number of unsolved plane crashes have remained in the public psyche for years:

One of the most famous was that of aviator Amelia Earhart, whose twin-engine Lockheed Electra vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 while on a round-the-world flight. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were never heard from again.

Because of the social intrigue, theories — and conspiracies — related to Earhart’s disappearance have become legend.

None of course ranks as high in mystery as the Bermuda Triangle, a cone-shaped vicinity extending northward from Puerto Rico to about halfway up the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. Its origins come from the loss of Flight 19, a team of five Navy bombers that vanished in 1945 after getting disoriented and confused about its coordinates.

More recently, South African Airways Flight 295, a Boeing 747 en route to Johannesburg from Taiwan in 1987, crashed into the Indian Ocean shortly after the pilot reported smoke in the cabin. While debris that washed up on the shores of Madagascar was tested, the cause of the crash has never been positively established.

In 1994, U.S. Air Flight 427 crashed in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, after taking off in Chicago, Illinois, en route to West Palm Beach, Florida. While federal officials identified a problem with the rudder but could not explain why the plane suddenly flipped and crashed, not a single clue has revealed why the mechanism failed. All 132 people aboard died.

Golfer Payne Stewart’s Learjet crashed in 1999. Although federal investigators revealed that the cabin air system lost pressure, it still has not been determined why. The pilots reportedly lost contact with air traffic controllers about 15 minutes into the flight. The investigation uncovered that the jet flew a straight course until it ran out of fuel and crashed in South Dakota.

In January 2008, a British Airways Boeing 777 crashed short of the runway at Heathrow Airport in London, England. Nineteen of the 152 people aboard were injured. There still is no explanation for why the plane’s engines lost power.

“The one that fascinates me is Steve Fossett,” said Hise.”I have absolutely no idea what happened to that man.”

Fossett, an adventurer famous for being the first person to complete a solo balloon flight around the world, was reported missing over Nevada in September 2007. Months after investigators searched for his body, his widow, in February 2008, requested that he be declared legally dead. His bones, found more than a half-mile from where his plane wreckage was discovered, were positively identified later that year.

“He was flying in clear skies, in an area he was familiar with. That’s the one that kind of eats away at me,” Hise said.

With all the mystery, David M. Primo, associate professor of political science at the University of Rochester, said there’s a broader effect when investigations fail to find clues about how an aircraft go down.

“An unsolved crash has the effect of creating an erroneous perception that flying is unsafe, even though it is a remarkably safe form of travel,” said Primo, co-author of “The Plane Truth: Airline Crashes, The Media and Transportation Policy.”

The odds of dying in a domestic plane crash are one in 70 million, according to MIT statistician Arnold Barnett, who has performed analyses for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Air France 447 – Official: Missing plane sent 24 error messages

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PARIS, France (CNN) — Air France Flight 447 sent out 24 automated error messages — including one saying the aircraft’s autopilot had disengaged — before it vanished with 228 people on board, aviation investigators said Saturday.

A photo of the Airbus 330 that went missing over the Atlantic early Monday.

A photo of the Airbus 330 that went missing over the Atlantic early Monday.

But even as they analyzed the error messages and satellite images of the doomed flight’s path, investigators said they still have a lot of work to determine what caused the plane to go down.

“I would just like to ask you to bear in mind that all of this is dynamic and there are a lot of question marks,” Paul-Louis Arslanian, head of France’s accident investigation bureau told reporters.

“We don’t know how the aircraft entered the water. We don’t know how these pieces of debris entered into the water and that you have to take into account the current … and the shape of the ocean floor.”

The error messages suggest that the plane may have been flying too fast or too slow through the stormy weather it encountered before the crash, officials said.

In addition, investigators have said the plane’s autopilot disengaged, cabin pressure was lost and there was an electrical failure before the disaster.

The jet’s manufacturer, Airbus, sent a Telex to operators of Airbus models reminding them of what to do when speed indicators give conflicting readings.

The spokesman said the notice does not mean there is any major flaw in the aircraft, but is simply a reminder to pilots of what to do in the cockpit if they get conflicting information about air speed. Video Watch as experts question whether recovery is possible »

All 228 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus 330 are presumed to have died when the plane disappeared northeast of the Fernando de Noronha Islands, an archipelago 355 kilometers (220 miles) off the northeast coast of Brazil.

The flight originated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and was en route to Paris, France.

Search teams were still trying to find debris from the jet Saturday, two days after a Brazilian Air Force official said debris plucked from the ocean was not from the Air France jet.

Air France 447 – No Wreckage Yet Recovered of Plane Lost Over Atlantic

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Six days after Air France Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean, searchers still have not recovered any wreckage belonging to the plane, prompting questions as to whether they have been searching in the right place and muddying initial theories over what happened to the aircraft.

News that a piece of debris recovered Thursday was only maritime garbage instead of an eight-foot piece of the plane’s cargo equipment, as the Brazilian military initially announced, frustrated French officials and friends and relatives of the victims of the crash, which claimed 228 lives.

Planes and ships from Brazil, France and the United States are involved in the search, and on Friday, France sent a nuclear submarine to listen for signals from the black boxes containing data and voice recordings.

Investigators found only more unrelated flotsam on Friday. And the pieces that the crews of surveillance planes had originally spotted Tuesday and initially determined to have been parts of the A330 Airbus aircraft — an airplane seat and life jacket — were no longer visible, according to Brazilian military officials who spoke at a news conference in Recife, Brazil.

“The area is very large, and some of the debris that were floating on the first day may have already sunk,” said Ramon Borges Cardoso, the director of Brazil’s Air Space Control Department, according to the news Web site

The new uncertainty over the disaster came after a statement on Thursday from Airbus, the manufacturer of the missing jet, warning its customers to follow established procedures when pilots suspect that air-speed indicators are not functioning properly.

The warning may indicate one focus of the investigation, and appeared to suggest that malfunctioning instruments might have played a role in the crash.

The Associated Press reported that Air France pilots were sent a memo on Friday saying that the airline was replacing Pitot tubes, part of the system for indicating air speed, on its larger jets to reduce the risk of loss of air-speed information. The airline declined to comment on the memo.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, Laura J. Brown, said Friday afternoon that as best she could determine, her agency was not requiring any changes to the Pitot tubes on Airbus planes operated by American carriers, and had not heard anything from its French counterpart about problems with that system.

Aviation experts thought that the eight-foot piece recovered Thursday indicated that the plane came apart at high altitude, allowing the parts to spread widely. But that theory seemed less solid on Friday, since the debris did not belong to the aircraft.

In radio interviews, France’s transportation minister, Dominique Bussereau, urged “extreme prudence” about judging the source of any debris until it could be analyzed. He said it was “bad news” that the Brazilian teams had been mistaken about the large piece of debris.

“We would have preferred that it had come from the plane and that we had some information,” he said.

On Friday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation of the crash, a routine procedure when a French citizen dies abroad.

Liz Robbins reported from New York, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington. Nicola Clark contributed reporting from Paris, Andrew Downie from São Paulo, Brazil, and Sergio Peçanha from New York.

Liz Robbins reported from New York, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington. Nicola Clark contributed reporting from Paris; Andrew Downie from São Paulo, Brazil; and Sergio Peçanha from New York.

New York Times

Air France 447 – Data Problems Noted Before Crash

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Published: June 6, 2009

Filed at 8:09 a.m. ET


PARIS (Reuters) – Airbus had detected faulty speed readings on its A330 jets ahead of last week’s crash of an Air France airliner, and had advised clients to replace a part, French air investigators said on Saturday.

But the head of France’s air accident agency (BEA) said it was too soon to say if problems with speed sensors were in any way responsible for the disaster over the Atlantic Ocean, which cost the lives of all 228 passengers and crew.

“Some of the sensors (on the A330) were earmarked to be changed … but that does not mean that without these replacement parts, the (Air France) plane would have been defective,” said BEA chief Paul Louis Arslanian.

Airbus, maker of the A330 jet that crashed on Monday, also issued a second advisory late on Thursday that pilots should follow standard procedures — to maintain flight speed and angle — if they thought their speed indicators were faulty.

“Problems had been detected (on A330s) and we are studying them,” said Arslanian, adding the plane was safe to fly.

Airbus said it had no immediate comment.

The Air France A330-200 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it suffered a rapid succession of technical problems after hitting heavy turbulence over the Atlantic.

Search crews have failed to recover any wreckage so far and French and Brazilian aircrews are scouring a stretch of ocean some 1,100 km (680 miles) northeast of Brazil’s coast where experts believe the plane might have come down.

Arslanian said the doomed Air France plane sent a series of 24 automated messages between 3:10 a.m. British time (0210 GMT) and 3:14 British time (0214 GMT) indicating a series of system failures before it vanished.

In the middle of this stream of data was one message showing inconsistent speed readings from the A330’s sensors.

“You have a plane which transmitted a message, and it is not an exceptional or unheard of message, particularly on the A330, which detected incoherent speed readings,” Arslanian said.


Investigators are anxious to locate the plane’s flight recorders to try and gleen more information on what went wrong, but are not optimistic that the black boxes will be retrieved.

“This is what we are looking for in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” Arslanian said, holding up a small, cylindrical canister which is attached to the flight recorders and designed to send homing signals for up to 30 days.

“We have absolutely no guarantee that it is still attached to the recorders. They can get detached,” he said.

The search zone is a relatively uncharted patch of ocean which has deep ravines and a fine, muddy sediment.

France is sending a nuclear-powered submarine to try to locate the two flight recorders, which could be at a depth of anywhere between 864 and 4,000 metres (2,835-13,120 ft).

Shifting currents meant that in a worst case scenario searchers would have to be right above the beacon to hear it.

Aviation analysts have speculated that a combination of severe turbulence and mechanical problems caused the crash.

Meterological experts have said the plane did cross a storm zone, but that it did not pose an apparent threat.

“Nothing would indicate (that the plane) hit a storm mass of exceptional intensity,” Alain Ratier, deputy head of Meteo France told a news conference on Saturday.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Jon Hemming)

New York Times