“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

June 10, 2009

What Happened to Air France Flight 447?

UPDATE (06-10-09): Terror Names Linked To Doomed Flight AF 447  Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on the Air France flight which crashed with the loss of 228 lives, it has emerged.

Since, at this point, we still do not know specifically what happened to the Air France passenger jet that simply disappeared over the Atlantic today, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, I will venture a few thoughts about what could have happened. 

First, having flown as a commercial airline passenger over a million-and-a-half miles in the last 20 years (probably closer to 2 million miles, when you add it all up), I can vouch for the fact that turbulence and lightning, however it bad either might get — and (very rarely, thank the Lord) I have experienced some truly hair-raising, white-knuckle incidents of both while flying — are not likely to, in themselves, sufficiently damage a modern passenger jet enough to make it crash. That scenario is possible, of course, but things I have read today seem to support my opinion that modern aircraft, such as the doomed Air France Airbus, are sufficiently resilient to survive passing through severe weather, all things being equal.

This is why I question the likelihood of a lightning strike or turbulence being the cause of bringing down that 4-year old Airbus — equipped, as it was, with the very latest in avionics and bad-weather avoidance technology. While that's certainly a possible scenario — I do not deny it — at this point it seems less likely.

Second, all the reports I have read thus far about this disaster, especially those  in the French-language press, lead me to assume that this accident (or whatever it was) must have occurred at cruising altitude which, for this plane on this route, would have been about 35,000 feet (+/-).  Keep in mind that Air France Flight 447 was already four hours into its transit from Rio to Paris.

News reports thus far have emphasized that the crew "did not have any time" to transmit a mayday signal as the plane was going down. Apparently, whatever happened on that plane happened so quickly that there was no time for any emergency message from the crew. 

Third, if there had been some kind of electrical malfunction or catastrophic systems failure at around 35,000 feet, the crew would certainly have had ample time to transmit some kind of mayday communication, however brief.  But the news reports I've read thus far indicate that the catastrophe happened too fast for them to broadcast any emergency messages.

So I ask myself, how could that be? What could have happened so suddenly at that altitude that would preclude any chance of the crew sounding an alarm?

Two grim possibilities come to mind.

1) Some kind of sudden structural failure crippled the jet at high altitude, leading to an immediate, explosive decompression and disintegration of the airframe.  While rare, this kind of freak accident has happened before, more than once

2) Terrorists on the flight itself detonated a bomb that brought the plane down.

Le Monde has reported that up to five middle-eastern passengers (three Moroccans and two Lebanese) were on board.

It may well be that severe weather or some type of freak structural failure brought that plane down, killing everyone.

Or, maybe it was . . . something else.

I hope we find the black boxes.

(NB: This entry was originally posted on June 1, 2009; updates were added subsequently.)

Related: Communiqué d'Air France suite à la disparition du vol Rio-Paris (current as of 9:00 p.m. ET, June 1, 2009).



  1. Hey Den says, yes that could have happened... Great article!

    :-D Thanks Pat!!!

  2. I heard that passengers were texting their good-byes. Someone knew something, surely.

  3. I'm guessing we'll never find the boxes and maybe very very little of the plane over a long period of time.

    The two other things I might consider are: If the electrical system failed, they may not of had a radio. And could sabotage to the software even remotely possibly cause system failures?

  4. It's just that terrorists like to take credit for their actions. Otherwise it's not really terrorism. Unless maybe they were following through on a specific threat to a specific small group of people.

    If it's a terrorist act, I think we'll know about it soon. I think a more likely explanation (if there's fowl play) would be that it's some sort of cover-up.

  5. this story is so 'hair raising' I cannot imagine the fear, the 'unknowing situation'. Its just extremely ironic that no trace was left behind in a short amount of time. I hope they find some evidence of what happened. It hard to live by the fact that it just 'disapeared' never to be found.

  6. I would think that if it were terrorists, someone would step up to take credit. Otherwise, it wouldn't really be terrorism.

    My guess, if we're talking about foul play, would go more towards a coverup of something.

  7. I too thought that it could be terrorism, since it seems to have happened so quickly and without much warning for the crew.

  8. drudge has bomb threat to air france post as top headline just now.

  9. Ruth Anne, how can one sent txt msg goodbyes in an area without any reception of radar or GSM? Sounds really unlikely.

    Terrorist bombing sounds unlikely too. It may sound weird but not all people living in the Middle East are terrorists. The reason those nationalities were on the plane is probably that since those regions used to be French colonies, they are still using part of that infrastructure. We in The Netherlands have the same with Indonesia and Suriname.

    Let's just wait until the NASB or their Brazilian/French counterpart comes up with results. Accusing people of terrorism because they have a Middle Eastern nationality is just plain discrimination. I'm Catholic, so I want to stay away as far as possible from that sort of nastyness.

  10. If it were terrorism, you would think the terrorists would've claimed responsibility by now. Otherwise, what's the sense in a terrorist doing something like this?

  11. Oh please, Taquorian. I didn't "accuse" anyone of anything. I pointed out that there were several, as yet, unidentified Middle-Easterners on that flight. Yes, it was in connection with my comment that a bomb could have accounted for the sudden loss of this plane, but it was conjecture, not accusation. The fact that the most spectacular terrorist attack against Westerners thus far was perpetrated by Middle-Easterners on airplanes is an inconvenient truth that some folks don't seem willing to acknowledge.

    Of course we have to wait till the investigators come up with their results. That's self-evident. We won't know what happened until they know what happened. In the meantime, it's not "nastyness" (sic) to offer reasonable conjectures as to what may have happened.

  12. The use of carbon composites for parts of the plane is by and large experimental.

    A North Sea helicopter fell out of the sky while ferrying workers from a rig.
    The case was lightning striking the tail rotor that was encased in carbon composite.
    It does not conduct electricity very well and it literall exploded.
    Which lead to the chopper going down.

    If (and there is a precedence of a tail failure in airbus before) lightning did strike the tail and it failed explosively it could cause a crash.

    However, it is still baffling that the crew had no time for a mayday...that suggests a sudden and catastrophic faliure...which from my reckoning is most likely a terrorist bomb.

  13. I thought they had no contact with anyone at the time? They had said good bye to their Brazilian ATC's and were going to contact Senagalese ATC's once they reached their air space. So a may day wouldn't have been heard by anyone I would've thought.

  14. beez,

    I thought that at the time the crash most likely happened they were unassigned to any ATC. They had said good bye to their Brazilian ATC and were going to connect with a Senegalese ATC once they reached the Senegalese air space.

  15. I usually don't comment on blogs.... but "Le Monde has reported that up to five middle-eastern passengers (three Moroccans and two Lebanese) were on board." borders on racism.

  16. Racism? No, I don't agree. I think it's more a matter of considering a potential explanation that makes a lot of folks uncomfortable.

  17. Pray to St Anthony so he can lead the rescuers and submarines to the black boxes!

  18. The Air France Flight 447 (Airbus A330) crash investigation will go on for another one and one half years. This is according to the French Investigation Director. The BEA has published a 72 page interim report on the investigation.

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