Air France Crash

June 8th, 2009 by

Searchers found 17 bodies in the Atlantic Ocean near where an Air France flight disappeared last week as new data suggested pilots could have been facing a cascade of competing warnings in the moments before the crash.

Teams recovered two bodies Saturday and 15 Sunday, Brazilian Air Force Col. Henry Munhoz said. Four of the bodies were men and four were women, he said, but rescue teams could not provide the others’ genders.

Searchers are now certain they have found wreckage from the Airbus A330 carrying 228 people, all of whom are presumed dead. They have seen two airplane seats, a briefcase with a ticket from the flight, wing fragments and other items.

“We’re sailing through a sea of debris,” Brazilian Navy Capt. Giucemar Tabosa Cardoso said.

The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed — possibly breaking up in midair — after flying into storms near the equator between Brazil and Africa. Investigators have not determined the cause of the crash.

In an indication of what might have gone wrong, French investigators said that at least one of the jet’s airspeed indicators had failed. The information came from data messages sent via satellite in the minutes before the crash, according to the BEA, the French agency investigating.

Similar failures, which could be triggered by ice that blocks the tube that measures airspeed, have caused several crashes in the past, according to accident data. In some cases, pilots received confusing simultaneous warnings that they were going too fast and too slow.

Ben Berman, an airline pilot who formerly investigated accidents at the National Transportation Safety Board, said pilots train for such emergencies. Even so, he said, contradictory messages could conceivably trick a pilot into speeding up so fast that a plane would begin breaking apart.

John Cox, a former airline pilot who works as an aviation safety consultant, said the pilots would have been facing a “very distracting and difficult situation” as they tried to diagnose the problem.

It’s too early to say for sure that a faulty airspeed indicator caused the crash, but there have been several accidents and serious incidents triggered by similar problems, said Kevin Darcy, a consultant and former chief accident investigator for Boeing.

On Oct. 2, 1996, for example, an AeroPeru Boeing 757 crashed off the coast of Peru, killing all 70 people aboard, after the pilots became confused about their speed and altitude. Workers had taped over gauges used to measure air pressure, which prompted erroneous speed and altitude indications, investigators found.

Though it was triggered by an errant computer, not a malfunctioning airspeed indicator, an incident on Oct. 7 on a Qantas A330 caused the jet to briefly dive violently, according to Australian investigators.

Last week, Airbus sent a notice to carriers flying the A330, reminding them that pilots should not take drastic action in response to unexpected airspeed fluctuations, spokesman Clay McConnell said. Airbus, along with other manufacturers, recommends that pilots maintain level flight and keep power at normal settings in such cases.

Airbus had recently recommended that Air France and other airlines replace devices known as pitot tubes that calculate airspeed changes by measuring air pressure. The BEA said Air France had not completed the replacement.

Contributing: Associated Press
USA Today

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