French Jet Vanishes on Flight From Brazil to Paris
By CAROLINE BROTHERS
Published: June 1, 2009
PARIS " An Air France passenger jet traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared after its electrical systems malfunctioned during an electrical storm with heavy turbulence on Sunday evening, and officials said Monday that a search had begun for the wreckage near a small archipelago off the Brazilian coast.
“We are very worried,” said an aviation official in Paris interviewed by Agence France-Presse. “It could be a transponder problem, but this kind of fault is very rare and the plane did not land when expected.”
The plane, an Airbus 330, was carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were 126 men, 82 women, seven children and one infant. There were nine cabin crew members and three pilots, the airline said.
Four hours after the flight took off at 7 p.m. local time on Sunday, the plane encountered a storm with “very heavy turbulence,” an Air France spokeswoman, Brigitte Barrand, said. The plane disappeared from radar screens four hours and 10 minutes later, 10 minutes after the turbulence was reported.
The plane automatically sent a message informing air traffic control of electrical-system malfunction, Air France officials said in a press conference in Paris. They said there was no further communication.
All jets are built to withstand severe turbulence, especially at upper flying levels, and Ms. Barrand said that the pilot was very experienced, having clocked 11,000 flying hours, including 1,100 hours on Airbus 330 jets. Officials said the plane might have been struck by lightning.
A Brazilian Air Force spokesman said the plane disappeared over the Atlantic near the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, a 7-square-mile island about 186 miles northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal. Search efforts in the area were under way, the spokesman said, according to The Associated Press..............
There are automatic emergency transponders that will signal certain emergency conditions that are picked up by satellites. That evidently was the source of the electrical malfunction signal. There are others in the liferafts if they deploy - the absence of any such report is an ominous sign. Tropical oceanic thunderstorms in those latitudes can be very large and have almost explosive growth rates - all entirely unpredictable. The vertical shear air currents they generate can be both hard to see or detect and extremely powerful.
France Sends Planes, Ships to Help Search for Missing Airbus
By Andrea Rothman and Laurence Frost
June 1 (Bloomberg) -- France is sending planes and ships to join Brazil’s air force in a search for the Air France Airbus that went missing today over the Atlantic Ocean with 228 people aboard.
Brazil’s air force said it hasn’t detected an emergency signal from the plane, which was flying to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, and that no aircraft on the same route had received a mayday call. The plane sent 10 automated distress messages before it vanished, said Air France-KLM Group Chief Executive Officer Pierre Henri Gourgeon.
“That’s the kind of message you receive from a dying, breaking-up airplane,” said John Nance, a pilot who runs an aviation-consulting business, in an interview from Seattle.
The Airbus A330-200 vanished after reporting an electrical- circuit breakdown and hitting turbulence, the airline said. The plane lost contact far from Brazil’s coast, Gourgeon told a news conference. The company said it isn’t ruling out a lightning strike on the aircraft.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with families of passengers on the plane. “I told them the truth, that the chances of finding any survivors are very slim,” Sarkozy told reporters at Charles de Gaulle airport, where Flight 447 had been scheduled to land today at 11:15 a.m. Paris time.
Brazil’s air force said in a press release that it is using five planes and two helicopters in the search, and three military ships are also participating. France is sending its reinforcements from Senegal, Hugues Goisbault, the French consul in Rio, told reporters at the airport there.
Gourgeon, speaking at the group’s headquarters near Paris, said the flight probably crashed. It’s “too early” to determine if weather was a factor, he said.
The plane ran into strong turbulence at 4 a.m. Paris time and sent automatic distress signals at 4:14 a.m., the company said. The signals indicate an “unexpected and exceptional incident aboard,” Gourgeon said.
Emergency locator beacons on the plane and “pingers” on the so-called black boxes are of little use when a plane is deep underwater, said Nance, the aviation consultant.
The flight disappeared from radar screens between the Brazilian city of Natal and the Cape Verde island of Ilha do Sal, a Brazilian air force colonel said on Brazil’s CBN radio.
Brazilian authorities last heard from the crew at 11 p.m. local time, or about 4 a.m. in Paris, Brazil’s Defense Ministry said.
Area of Focus
The Brazilian Navy said it will focus on an area that is about 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) from Natal and 770 kilometers from the island of Fernando de Noronha.
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, said that he isn’t aware of U.S. involvement, and that the safety board is prepared to help determine the causes.
“We are going to assist with the investigation,” he said.
The passengers included 58 Brazilians, 61 French and 26 Germans as well as more than a dozen other nationalities, according to a press release from Air France.
Air France said in a statement that it’s assembled 15 physicians to give family members medical and psychological counseling at the Paris and Rio airports.
Erich Heine, 41, chairman of ThyssenKrupp AG’s CSA steel mill in Brazil, was on the flight, Monica Freitas, a spokeswoman for the unit, said in a phone interview.
Michelin & Cie.’s Chief Executive for Latin America Luis Roberto Anastacio and another Brazilian executive were also aboard, the company said.
StatoilHydro ASA, Norway largest oil and natural-gas producer, said three employees were on the flight: Marcela Pellizon, 29; Gutavo Peretti, 30; and Kristian Berg Andersen, 37.
The A330, a twin-engine airliner that carries about 250 people, has never had a fatal crash in commercial flight, though a development model crashed shortly after takeoff during testing, according to Paul Hayes, director of safety at Ascend, an aviation consultant in the U.K.
The missing Airbus was delivered to Air France in April 2005 and had flown for about 18,000 hours on some 2,500 flights, the manufacturer said in a statement. The company said it is offering technical assistance in the investigation. Airbus declined to comment on the cause........
Case of Missing Jetliner Shows Technology's Limits
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 1, 2009; 4:46 PM
Air travelers are trained to think that planes are stuffed with the latest high-tech aviation gear. But the case of missing Air France Flight 447 is demonstrating technology's limits.
From details known so far, Air France jet carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris had its last contact with Brazil air traffic control Sunday about 4:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m. EDT). The plane entered a zone of storms and high turbulence about 4 a.m., leading to speculation that the jet, an Airbus A330-200, might have been hit by lightning.
Early today, French aviation authorities were officially listing the plane as missing. At the same time, Brazilian and French military planes were combing both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for remains of the plane.
Analysts were scrambling to figure out exactly what kind of satellite-enabled communication systems the plane was equipped with. Using the latest gear, airplanes can automatically transmit information such as the plane's position, altitude, heading and speed. But not all airplanes flying across oceans are equipped with such technology.
Some experts say that given the vastness of the ocean, the crash site might never be pinpointed.
"If an airplane went down in the mid-Atlantic, it could be very difficult to find any physical wreckage," said John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The mid-oceans are one of the remotest parts of the world. It's like going to the North Pole. It's in an area of where there is very limited ability to communicate."
That could prove a major headache for safety investigators who place a high priority on finding the plane's black box data and voice recorders. Typically, the black boxes have tracking beacons that activate when the boxes get wet. The radio signal works for about 30 days. Search teams will have to be within 4,000 to 5,000 feet of the black box location to pick up the signals.
Investigators from around the world will want to know precisely what went wrong on the flight. The A330-200 is a common jet in the industry. It specializes in international flying, especially transatlantic routes. Analysts say A330 planes have had an unquestioned safety record. Northwest, which recently merged with Delta Air Lines, has 11 A330-200 planes and 21 of the larger A330-300 models. US Airways has nine A330-300s, according to Airbus.
Hans Weber, an aviation technology consultant, said airplane satellite systems have their limits. "Once the plane hits the water it breaks up," he said. "Just like your car, you may have all this information but if you had a catastrophic accident, the GPS system will not survive.......
I was in wind shear once in Denver, Christ, I hate flying into Denver. It was probably the scariest moment of my life. Thousand feet down in about a second.
I'm flying across the atlantic tomorrow. This is not news I welcome.