Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Possible Hypothesis Of The Cause Of The Crash Of Air France Flight 447 Off The Coast Of Brazil

Update June 4th: Anonymous Air France pilot thinks terrorists bombed the flight. Updated post HERE.

After reading several new articles about the crash of Air France 447 off the northeast coast of Brazil, I have formed a possible hypothesis about the cause of the crash. Note that this is strictly derived through amateur deductive reasoning; I have never flown an aircraft. I will present the hypothesis, then the principle components of the hypothesis, including source articles and links.

Hypothesis: Flight 447 suddenly encountered the line of thunderstorms in its flight path; Reuters hints the jet may have flown through three of them. While attempting to fly through them, the aircraft took a couple of catastrophic lightning strikes. One strike completely blew off the radar, leaving the aircraft flying blind. Another strike may have been serious enough to fry the electronics, explaining the automated reports of "loss of electrical power" and "loss of cabin pressure". Uncertain about the weather due to loss of radar, the pilot then may have attempted to make a right turn to return to the nearest airfield at Fernando de Noronha, but the loss of power, coupled with a flight computer that may not have permitted manual override, may have made the aircraft uncontrollable, so it plunged into the sea. Severe or extreme turbulence associated with the storms would have exacerbated this situation.

Components of the Hypothesis:

(1). Lightning Strike Hypothesis: Published in this June 2nd Reuters story and a June 2nd Austrian Times story. While experts say that jets are designed to withstand lightning, they add that a direct hit might have disrupted the plane's radar and radio, which could explain the communications blackout. LePoint.fr news website also said that some external sensors on the plane appeared to have frozen, which might have compromised cockpit readings, but there's no confirmation of this.

(2). Flight Computer Hypothesis: Published in this June 2nd WA Today story. A similar situation involving a Qantas Airbus in October 2007, which had a happier ending, provides valuable input. Hans Weber, head of the aviation consulting firm Tecop in San Diego, said the new Airbus 330 was a "fly-by-wire" plane, in which signals to move the flaps are sent through electric wires to small motors in the wings rather than through cables or hydraulic tubing.

Fly-by-wire systems can automatically conduct manoeuvres to prevent an impending crash, but some Airbus jets will not allow a pilot to override the self-protection mechanism. On both Qantas flights, the planes' inertia sensors sent faulty information to the flight computers, making them take emergency measures to correct problems that did not exist. If the inertia sensor told a computer that a plane was stalling, forcing it to drop the nose and dive to pick up speed, and there was a simultaneous severe downdraft in storm turbulence, "that would be hard to recover from", Mr Weber said.

On October 7th last year [2008], a Qantas flight, with 303 passengers and 10 crew on board, was at 37,000 feet and about 80 nautical miles from Learmonth in north-western Australia when the pilots received electronic centralised aircraft monitoring messages relating to an irregularity with the elevator control system. The aircraft climbed approximately 300 feet, then abruptly pitched nose-down.

(3). Right Turn Hypothesis: Published in this June 3rd Daily Express story. According to the story, the heroic pilot of the doomed Air France airliner may have tried to make a desperate bid to save everyone on board. It is believed the 58-year-old captain made a last-ditch bid for safety as the stricken jet flew into the jaws of a ­ferocious tropical storm in a sector dubbed the “Black Cauldron”.

Wreckage of missing Flight 447 was discovered yesterday floating in the ocean some 400 miles north-east of Brazil. Debris, which included seats from the plane and a lifejacket, was found in two separate areas about 35 miles apart. But the objects were found to the right of the plane’s original course – suggesting that the pilot may have tried to turn away from the menacing thunderstorm and head back towards a nearby cluster of islands. Brazilian Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral said, “The locations where the objects were found are towards the right of the point where the last signal of the plane was emitted. That suggests it might have tried to make a turn, maybe to return to Fernando de Noronha, but that is just hypothesis.”

Here's an ITN report (United Kingdom):


Brazil has officially confirmed that Flight 447 crashed after finding an airplane seat, a fuel slick and pieces of white debris scattered over three miles of open ocean. Brazilian military pilots spotted the wreckage in the ocean 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of these islands off Brazil's coast. No bodies have been found, and there was no sign of life.

Locating the all-important black box recorders, which emit signals for only 30 days, is expected to be exceedingly challenging, since they could be resting in water at depths of up to 23,000 feet. The boxes are constructed to withstand the pressures of deep water. The cause of the crash will not be known until the black boxes are recovered — which could take days or weeks. But weather and aviation experts are focusing on the possibility of a collision with a brutal storm that sent winds of 100 mph straight into the airliner's path. "The airplane was flying at 500 mph northeast and the air is coming at them at 100 mph," said AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Henry Margusity. "That probably started the process that ended up in some catastrophic failure of the airplane."

Remotely controlled submersible crafts will have to be used to recover wreckage settling so far beneath the ocean's surface. France dispatched a research ship equipped with unmanned submarines that can explore as deeply as 19,600 feet. A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane — which can fly low over the ocean for 12 hours at a time and has radar and sonar designed to track submarines underwater — and a French AWACS radar plane are joining the operation. France also has three military patrol aircraft flying over the central Atlantic, two commercial ships reached the floating debris, and Brazilian navy ships were en route.

Terrorism has not been ruled out, but is considered unlikely, because someone would have claimed responsibility by now.

No comments: