About the loss of AF447

There is nothing quite like waking up to the news of a plane having gone down somewhere in the world.  A mix of sadness and hope, along with a bit of “there but for the grace of god go I” all blend together.  And there are generally more questions than there are answers.  In this particular case it looks like the number of questions will stay ahead of the number of answers probably for the rest of time. 

The plane was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on Sunday night when it disappeared in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  It had departed the airspace that is under the control of Brazilian ATC and was headed towards controllers working out of Senegal.  But they never received the expected communication from the plane.  It should be noted here that the airspaces in question are not necessarily territorial but are just the spaces managed by the ATC in those countries to facilitate air travel around the world.  So it isn’t that the plane was just off the coast of Senegal; it was very much still in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The plane does have a system that transmits mechanical issues and notes to Airbus and the carrier.  This allows them to perform follow-up checks when the plane arrives at its destination.  In the case of AF447 it also means that we have a very small bit of information about what was going on towards the end of the flight.

Sources within Air France reported, that the automatic message did not only report an electrical short circuit, but also the loss of cabin pressure. This information has been confirmed by FAB, who also stated, that the position of the airplane was given as N3.5777 W30.3744 in that message.

New information provided by sources within Air France suggests, that the ACARS messages of system failures started to arrive at 02:10Z indicating, that the autopilot had disengaged and the fly by wire system had changed to alternate law. Between 02:11Z and 02:13Z a flurry of messages regarding ADIRU and ISIS faults arrived, at 02:13Z PRIM 1 and SEC 1 faults were indicated, at 02:14Z the last message received was an advisory regarding cabin vertical speed. That sequence of messages could not be independently verified.

I honestly don’t know what most of that means, but things like “electrical short circuit” and “advisory regarding vertical cabin speed” are just not good. And, just now this morning, BBC and several other news outlets are reporting that debris has been spotted on the ocean surface, not too far from where the last communication was transmitted.  The good news is that if they have, in fact, located the wreckage then there is a chance that there could be some answers as to what actually happened.  But getting a full accounting is highly unlikely; it is, after all, a very big ocean out there.

It is a sad day in the travel world.  Very sad, indeed.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.