Saturday 20 June 2009

Air disaster mystery

As the French government starts to pay out compensation to the families of those killed in the Air France flight lost off Brazil on June 1st, we are no nearer discovering the causes of the disaster – the worst in Air France’s history.

The “black box” flight recorders have not yet been found, and the sonar signal that they give out to help those searching run for only 30 days at most, so investigators are now in a race against time. We do know that there was bad weather at the time of the crash, that the Airbus A330’s monitoring systems had sent out 24 automated error messages, and that the auto-pilot had been switched off.

Last year, Air France began to notice problems with speed monitors icing over on this aircraft, and started to replace them in April. This was recommended by Airbus, though it is not a requirement of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Air France has now said it is accelerating the replacement programme.

If the aircraft’s systems are receiving conflicting information on speed, it can cause the autopilot to shut down, and in extreme cases, the aeroplane may stall or go dangerously fast, so that there is a danger of it breaking up. Without the flight recorders, though, all of this remains conjecture, and there is a possibility that we may never know what caused the deaths of the 228 passengers and crew.

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