Thursday, July 02, 2009

Interim report on the crash of Air France Flight 447 released by French BEA

by B. N. Sullivan

BEA image:AF447 flight pathThe French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) released an interim report today concerning the crash of Air France Flight 447. The Airbus A330-200 (registraion F-GZCP) was lost over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009 while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. There were three pilots, nine cabin crew, and 216 passengers on board. All perished in the accident.

Perhaps the most striking detail among the initial findings presented in this report was the statement that "visual examination showed that the airplane was not destroyed in flight; it appears to have struck the surface of the sea in a straight line with high vertical acceleration."

Prior to the release of today's report, there had been wide speculation that the aircraft broke up while still aloft.

Here is the summary of initial findings, quoted directly from the English language version of the report (pp. 68-69). [See below for links to the report.]
On the basis of the first factual elements gathered in the course of the investigation, the following facts have been established:
  • The crew possessed the licenses and ratings required to undertake the flight
  • The airplane possessed a valid Certificate of Airworthiness, and had been maintained in accordance with the regulations,
  • the airplane had taken off from Rio de Janeiro without any known technical problems, except on one of the three radio handling panels,
  • no problems were indicated by the crew to Air France or during contacts with the Brazilian controllers,
  • no distress messages were received by the control centres or by other airplanes,
  • there were no satellite telephone communications between the airplane and the ground,
  • the last radio exchange between the crew and Brazilian ATC occurred at 1 h 35 min 15 s. The airplane arrived at the edge of radar range of the Brazilian control centres,
  • at 2 h 01, the crew tried, without success for the third time, to connect to the Dakar ATC ADS-C system,
  • up to the last automatic position point, received at 2 h 10 min 35 s, the flight had followed the route indicated in the flight plan,
  • the meteorological situation was typical of that encountered in the month of June in the inter-tropical convergence zone,
  • there were powerful cumulonimbus clusters on the route of AF447. Some of them could have been the centre of some notable turbulence,
  • several airplanes that were flying before and after AF 447, at about the same altitude, altered their routes in order to avoid cloud masses,
  • twenty-four automatic maintenance messages were received between 2 h 10 and 2 h 15 via the ACARS system. These messages show inconsistency between the measured speeds as well as the associated consequences,
  • before 2 h 10, no maintenance messages had been received from AF 447, with the exception of two messages relating to the configuration of the toilets,
  • the operator’s and the manufacturer’s procedures mention actions to be undertaken by the crew when they have doubts as to the speed indications,
  • the last ACARS message was received towards 2 h 14 min 28 s,
  • the flight was not transferred between the Brazilian and Senegalese control centres,
  • between 8 h and 8 h 30, the first emergency alert messages were sent by the Madrid and Brest control centres,
  • the first bodies and airplane parts were found on 6 June,
  • the elements identified came from all areas of the airplane,
  • visual examination showed that the airplane was not destroyed in flight ; it appears to have struck the surface of the sea in a straight line with high vertical acceleration.
The BEA notes that some of the points covered "may evolve with time," and that the contents of the Interim report should not "be interpreted as an indication of the orientation or conclusions of the investigation" of this accident.

The aircraft's Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have not been recovered, but efforts to find them are still underway. The investigation is expected to continue for quite some time.

Here are the links to the BEA Interim Report on Air France 447:
Note: If the BEA web site is busy or the documents fail to load, here is an alternative source for both the French and English versions of the BEA Interim report.

[Image Source]

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Air France Flt 447 on Aircrew Buzz.