Air France Flight 447 en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared over the Mid-Atlantic (just north of the equator) at approximately 1.33UTC on June 1st 2009.
No mayday signal was received from the aircraft and almost two weeks later, aviation officials have yet to give a coherent explanation as to what could have caused the sudden demise of a high tech Airbus 330-200 passenger plane.
One of the first official comments on the incident came from French Prime Minister Francois Fillon who said
"Our only certainty is that the plane did not send out any distress call but regular automatic alerts for three minutes indicating the failure of all systems."Aviation experts were also said to be puzzled that there were no radio reports from the Airbus and stated that such a modern aircraft would have had to suffer multiple traumas to plunge into the sea.
Initial theorizing focused on the Pitot tube, part of the aircraft's system of pressure-sensitive instruments which determine airspeed, Mach number, altitude, and vertical speed. An Air France spokesperson stated on 3 June that:
"the aircraft sent a series of electronic messages over a three-minute period, which represented about a minute of information. Exactly what that data means hasn't been sorted out, yet."An aviation safety expert explained a few days later that "complete failure would require 100% failure of the electrical system," which "did not happen early in the flight, because the system was up linking data to the maintenance facility, indicating there was some electricity on the airplane.
The messages, sent from an onboard maintenance system, Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), indicated that between 02:10 UTC and 02:14 UTC - four minutes or less - 5 failure reports and 19 warnings were transmitted.The messages resulted from equipment failure data, captured by a built-in system for testing and reporting, and cockpit warnings also posted to ACARS. The failures and warnings in the 5 minutes of transmission concerned navigation auto-flight, flight controls, and cabin air-handling.
Among the ACARS transmissions in the first minute is one message that indicates a fault in the pitot-static system. Sources close to the investigation have confirmed that "the first automated system-failure message in a string of radio alerts from the crashed jet explicitly indicated that the airspeed sensors were faulty". The twelve warning messages with the same time code indicate that the autopilot and auto-thrust system had disengaged, that the aircraft collision avoidance system was in fault mode. Additionally the flight mode went from 'normal law' to 'alternate law'. The remainder of the messages occurred from 02:11 UTC to 02:14 UTC, containing a fault message for an Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (which sends air speed data to the pilots display as well as other systems such as the engines, autopilot, flight control and landing gear systems. At 02:12 UTC, a warning message indicated that there was a disagreement between the independent air data systems. At 02:13 UTC, a fault message for the flight management guidance and envelope computer was sent. One of the two final messages, transmitted at 02:14 UTC was a warning referring to the air data reference system, the other was a "cabin vertical speed warning".
All of the above would seem to bear out the aforementioned aviation expert's conclusion that the plane did indeed suffer multiple traumas before it plunged into the sea. Yet such a series of traumas would be unprecedented in modern aviation history, particularly given that the Airbus 330 is one of the most advanced and and safest commercial planes available. It has an excellent safety record, with more than 550 planes built and no passenger fatalities since it went into service in 1993. It is almost inconceivable then that such a plane with no history of technical issues could have experienced such complete technical failure so quickly that the pilot did not even have time to send a distress call ("Mayday") on the aircraft emergency frequency.
Unsurprisingly then, on June 11th the French Investigation and Analysis Office For Civilian Security discounted the idea then that the "air speed sensor" could have been the main cause of the crash.
Severe weather has also been proposed as a possible cause. This theory is based on the report that at about 1am UTC the pilots reported that they had encountered "stormy weather with strong turbulence". Daniel G. Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather.com calculated that thunderstorms in the region of the crash could have generated updrafts in the range of 100 miles per hour, although he conceded that this was not unusual weather for the region. According to commercial transport pilots familiar with the route, it is likely that the flight crew of the Air France aircraft was aware of the intensity of the storm in the flight path at that altitude long before actually encountering the thunderstorms. Using the on board radar pilots can see and fairly easily navigate around particular storm cells.
Lightning is also unlikely to have caused any serious problems because modern aircraft are designed to take lightning strikes without significant damage.
The most compelling evidence against the weather theory however is the fact that two Lufthansa jets flew through the same area both before and after Flight 447 without incident.
The United Nations weather agency said on Tuesday it had preliminary information indicating the two aircraft recorded data on prevailing temperatures and winds. But they were not equipped to automatically transmit information on turbulence.Indeed, no less than 12 other flights shared more or less the same route with Flight 447 around the time of the accident. No weather problems were reported by any of the planes.
On Monday, a source with access to the data transmitted to the World Meteorological Organisation told Reuters in Paris that the two jets passed through turbulence before and after the plane without incident, leaving experts scrambling to assess the weather's role in the disaster.
Recent reports that passengers bodies have been found 54kms apart strongly suggest that the plane broke apart high in the air.
When faced with the problem of the loss of a commercial jet in mid-air with no obvious explanation, the mainstream media generally resorts to storytelling, with a little Hollywood movie-style emotional string pulling for good measure, as evidenced by this UK Times article:
Had AF447 suffered a structural failure? Did a window break or wing shear off? Whatever it was, the passengers must have been terrified. It was night over the Atlantic, lightning splitting the sky, the aircraft jolting in the turbulence, systems failing. Then massive decompression, cabin air gone and, outside, the temperature -30C or below. Mercifully they may not have suffered long.Interestingly, in the same article the authors state:
Though no one yet knows for sure what destroyed the plane, investigators are concerned that it was not caused, as first suggested, by a lightning strike or a bomb or a meteorite. Instead they fear it was a fatal collision of high technology and the brute force of nature.Ah yes, the "brute force of nature"! Now that is getting close, but even closer was the reference to a meteorite. Even though this idea received scant attention in the mainstream press, with only Discover magazine blog allowing one of their editors to speculate on the statistical possibility of an errant bolide sealing the fate of AF 447, it cannot be discounted. As the saying goes, when all other theories have been tried and found wanting, whatever remains, however implausible, must be the answer.
Readers of Sott.net will be familiar with the data we have compiled on the alarming increase in frequency of meteorite sightings and impacts over the past 10 years. Laura Knight-Jadczyk's article Meteorites, Asteroids, and Comets: Damages, Disasters, Injuries, Deaths, and Very Close Calls presents a list of impact events dating from 10,000 BC to the present day. It was this and other data, studiously ignored by the mainstream media, that led us to quickly consider a more logical explanation to the sudden disappearance of AF 447.