Monday, June 01, 2009

Air France Flight From Brazil With 228 Aboard Missing; Search On For Wreckage at Sea


An Air France flight from Rio to Paris is missing and is presumed to have crashed at sea with 228 aboard.

Here's the current New York Times story on the missing plane.

Air France reported that there were 216 passengers and 12 crew on the plane, which apparently disappeared from Brazilian air traffic control radar screens off the coast of the Brazilian city of Natal.

The aircraft was an Airbus A330-200.

Air France said, without elaboration, that there were indications of some sort of an electrical problem in turbulent air before the plane disappeared from radar.

The Brazilian Air Force, which operates Brazil's air traffic control system, said its last radar contact with the plane was at 10:48 p.m. The plane took off from Rio at 7:30 p.m. local time (6:30 EDT). It is not clear yet how long the plane may have remained in Brazilian air space after the last reported radar contact.

Reports say the plane encountered severe turbulence over the Atlantic.

It has not yet been fully established whether the plane was under Brazilian air traffic control supervision when it disappeared. If the severe weather was in Brazilian airspace or should have been known to Brazilian air traffic control, it is not clear whether Brazilian air traffic control warned the airliner of it, as should be routine. In the past, there have been questions raised in Brazil about the adequacy of Brazilian air traffic control radar and radio communications in various remote areas, including the Amazon and off the coast.

The Associated Press quotes Air France as saying that the plane "crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence" before contact was lost. Quoting Air France, the AP said that "an automatic message was received .. 'signaling electrical circuit malfunction.'"

The AP report does not say who the "automatic message" was received by. Brazilian air traffic control would be one guess. An automatic satellite signal to Air France maintenance would be another.

I'm told that the expected route of this flight would have kept it in Brazilian airspace for about four hours, which could have included the time it presumably went down, but Brazil says the plane had left its air space.

There are contradictory news reports speculating on where the plane might have gone down, including some accounts putting it near the coast of Africa.

Investigators will be looking hard at who had control of that flight; when, precisely, it disappeared from radar; and when it was noticed that it had disappeared -- which is not always the same thing, as we know.

Investigators also will look at maintenance records to determine when and where that plane last had maintenance work, and who performed it. There have been allegations in recent years that some airlines have occasionally used third-world maintenance facilities that are not fully certified by global aviation regulatory authorities.

Because the Airbus plane's engines are U.S.-made, the National Transportation Safety Board will join in the investigation.

Following is the bulletin on the disappearance posted this morning by the Brazilian Air Force. Translation by Richard Pedicini, our correspondent in Brazil:

"The Brazilian Air Force Command informs that it has begun search operations for AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 447, which disappeared when flying from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, France, with an estimated arrival time of 6:10 AM (Brasilia time).

The AIR FRANCE aircraft took off from GaleĆ£o Airport in Rio at 7:30 PM local time. At 10:30 PM, Flight AFR 447 made its last contact via radio with the Atlantic Area Control Center (CINDACTA III) at position INTOL (565 kilometers from the city of Natal, RN), informing that it was entering the airspace of DAKAR - Senegal (position TASIL – 1,228 km from Natal), at 11:20 PM (Brasilia time). At 10:48 PM, when the aircraft left CINDACTA III's radar coverage, at the island of Fernando de Noronha, information indicated that the aircraft was flying normally at an altitude of 35,000 feet (11 km) and at a velocity of 453 knots (840 km/h).

At the time estimated for position TASIL (11:20 PM), the AIR FRANCE aircraft did not make the expected radio contact with CINDACTA III, of which DAKAR Control was informed.

AIR FRANCE informed CINDACTA III, at 8:30 AM, Brasilia time, that at approximately 100 km from position TASIL, flight AFR 447 sent a message informing the company of mechanical problems on the aircraft (loss of pressurization and a failure in the electrical system).

At 2:30 AM local time, SALVAERO Recife activated search teams of the Brazilian Air Force - FAB, with one C-130 Hercules aircraft, one sea patrol P-95 Bandeirante and the Air-Land Rescue Squadron (PARASAR)."


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