27 May 2011

Air France plane dropped 38,000 feet in three minutes

Black box recordings reveal how Air France AF447 stalled and dropped 38,000 feet in three minutes as it plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, killing everyone on board.

Air France AF447 (Reuters)

A report by French agency BEA (Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses) has revealed the harrowing last few minutes for those travelling on the Air France flight that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009.

It explained how, as is customary on long haul flights, the captain had left the cockpit for a break at just after 2am. At this point there had been no warning of problems with the engines. Shortly after this, the co-pilot told cabin crew that “you should watch out” for turbulence ahead.

According to the report, in the next few minutes the two co-pilots attempted to keep control of the plane as its speed varied and angle in the air fluctuated. Taking the plane to a peak of 38,000 feet, the co-pilot made a number of calls for the captain to return to the cockpit.

At this point, the auto-pilot dropped out and the plane began its nose-dive. A minute later, the captain returned to the flight deck, but there was no time for him to take back controls from his co-pilots as they tried and failed to bring the plane out of stall, stop its freefall and bring it back into flight.

This was the start of the descent that would see the Airbus A330 drop 38,000 feet in just three minutes at a rate of over 10,000 feet a minute and at a speed of 124mph.

'Air France Flight AF447 - The Final 10 Minutes'
Flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. 228 on board, 5 Brits, 3 Irish Nationals. 0
02:04 AM: 10 minutes before the Plane engines stalled the Captain left the cockpit for a break.
02:06 AM: Shortly after, the co-pilot advised cabin crew there would be some turbulence - the co-pilot pushed the plane to a maximum height of 38,000 feet.
02:10 AM: Autopilot disengages. Plane begins to descend from 38,000 feet (11,600 metres)
02:11 AM After calls for him to return the captain re-entered the cockpit three minutes before the planes black box recorder ceased working. 02:13 MINS: The co-pilot advised that a minute before the crash they had dropped to 10,000 feet
02:14 MINS: Plane crashes into Atlantic Ocean killing all 228 passengers. The descent after the engines stalled was 180 feet a second

The report does not attribute any blame to the pilots and did not analyse the data or conversations made in the cockpit.

It also did not attribute any blame to the Pitot tubes – the plane’s speed sensors which have long been considered to have played a role. These parts have still not been found from the wreckage now lying at the base of the ocean, but it is believed that ice could have formed on the tubes, causing them to freeze and give irregular readings.

There was also no analysis of whether the absence of Captain Marc Dubois had any impact on the events that unfolded in the few minutes after he left the cockpit.

The black box recorder, which offered the information needed for the report, was discovered in the latest dive to recover the wreckage and bodies.