Pilot, meteorologists weigh in on perils Air France jet might have faced

Like many people, I’ve been following the ongoing developments in the search for Air France flight 447, which went missing some 24 hours ago, four hours into an 11-hour flight from Rio de Janiero, Brazil to Paris, France.

The investigation is currently focused on a number of messages sent to Paris from the Airbus A330 jetliner’s computers. These indicate that Flight 447 was experiencing problems with its electrical and cabin pressure systems while flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms about half-way between Brazil and Africa.

For context, I thought I’d share a couple of obscure but informative pieces that have been published about this tragedy.

The first comes from fellow blogger “Dave” at Flight Level 390, a captain with an unspecified U.S. airline who has spent many hours at the controls of “Fifi” (as he’s fond of calling French-made Airbus jetliners), and who has had to dodge thunderstorms many times in his career. He wrote an excellent piece earlier today on the threat that storms can pose to modern jetliners, and described how violent weather might have caused the crash of Air France 447:

I will put forward two scenarios that may have happened to this jet:

First- Struck by a super bolt which fried the electronics causing depressurization, loss of electrical power and finally, a high altitude upset in IFR conditions (dark, turbulent, scary) leading to catastrophe.

Second- Encountered severe turbulence between or in thunderstorms. Airframe damage and/or failure leads to depressurization, loss of electrical power and finally, disaster.

Whatever happened, it was not pretty. The pax were terrified and the pilots were surely fighting until impact.

The second comes from AccuWeather meteorologists Kristina Pydynowski and Henry Margusity and correspondent Gina Cherundolo. In their analysis of weather conditions along the flight route, they note that the crew’s path was likely blocked by thunderstorms towering higher than the aircraft’s assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet:

At the time of apparent disappearance, thunderstorms along the flight path were probably towering to a height of over 40,000 feet. Given the breadth of the storms on the satellite images, it was probably tough for the pilots to avoid the storms. Flight AF 447 was reported to be flying at 35,000 feet, which would mean the craft would have most likely flown through or around a storm, especially one around 40,000 feet in the air.

Though rare, it is not unprecedented for a jetliner to completely lose control in or near a thunderstorm.

In 1966, a Braniff Airways jetliner was flying in the vicinity of thunderstorms over Nebraska when it was thrown up and to the left, and then down again with such force that parts of the tail and one of the wings broke off. Ten years later, in 1976, a U.S. military jet flying near thunderstorm cells over the U.K. also had a wing, engines and part of its tail torn off by storm forces. Both aircraft subsequently crashed.

It’s possible that what happened to Flight 447 will be quite a bit different from what happened in the two preceding incidents. However, what we know so far, along with reports earlier this evening that the crew of a Brazilian airliner following behind the Air France jet might have seen burning wreckage in the Atlantic, suggests that the investigators will be looking at the possibility of a mid-air disintegration.

Related: F-GZCP, the Airbus A330 assigned to operate the ill-fated flight.

Update, 12:15 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 2: The Brazilian military have found two debris fields about 60 kilometres apart in the Atlantic Ocean, close to Flight 447’s last known location. And UPI is celebrating “100 Years of Journalistic Excellence” by asking random people on the street what they think might have happened to the jet. Perhaps it was easier than asking pilots and meteorologists?

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to Pilot, meteorologists weigh in on perils Air France jet might have faced

  1. 迷你倉 says:

    Navy ships are speeding toward a patch of ocean in the Atlantic that is littered with debris from an Air France plane that crashed with 228 people on board, seeking to recover clues to the jet’s mysterious tragedy.

    The naval operation, a day after the debris was spotted off Brazil’s coast, included two mini-submarines to recover the plane’s black box flight recorders if they can be found in the depths of the Atlantic.

    Both Brazil’s defense minister and a French military official have said there is no doubt the debris came from the mysterious crash.

    The first ships to arrive will be Brazilian, joining three cargo ships from France and the Netherlands that were rerouted to the area after debris from Air France flight AF447 was spotted.

    Brazil has announced three days of national mourning. Catholic and Muslim services are to be held in Paris, including one in Notre-Dame cathedral to be attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

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