http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/ ... id=1656151
Search for jet's black box could take months
Depth of water, huge search area, weather all problems
Natalie Alcoba, National Post Published: Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Fragmented remains of an Air France flight that went missing Sunday night were discovered scattered along a five kilometre stretch of the Atlantic ocean, Brazilian officials confirmed on Tuesday, as search and rescue ships travelled to the scene to start piecing together the disaster.
On board one French vessel are two mini-submarines that can work deep under water, as the rescue operation turns to finding debris that has come to rest along the ocean floor.
Recovering the "black box" is especially critical, since it contains voice recordings and instrument data that could explain why the Airbus jetliner vanished in an Atlantic storm en route to Paris with 228 people on board.
Experts say the devices are designed to send homing signals when they hit water, but merely locating them presents a mammoth task that could take months. Oceanographers say this stretch of the Atlantic, about 650 kilometres north east of Brazil, has average depths of 4,000 to 5,000 metres, but crevices can go as far as 8,000 metres.
"There are no doubts" items floating in the sea belonged to flight AF 447 that was going from Rio to Paris, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told reporters in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.
"A five-kilometre long strip of debris -- cables and other aircraft components" were spotted by several flyovers through the day, he said. An airplane seat, an orange buoy, white pieces resembling parts of a fuselage and traces of oil or kerosene were discovered.
There was initial speculation that lightning may have been a factor in the crash, since the plane flew through a tropical storm, but the cause remains unknown.
Brazilian Navy ships and merchant vessels in the area were making their way to the scene to continue to looking for more debris, Lt.-Col. Ricardo Dechen, with the Brazilian Air Force, told the National Post.
Also en route is a research ship called The Pourquoi Pas? (Why Not), a French government minister said in a statement on Tuesday, which is carrying mini-subs that can go up to 6,000 metres deep.
"There is a good chance that the recorder would survive but the main problem would be finding it," said Derek Clarke, joint managing director of Aberdeen-based Divex, which designs and builds military and commercial diving equipment.
Mr. Clarke spends time preparing for the unthinkable as part of an industry network on stand-by to help rescue submarines.
"If you think how long it took to find the Titanic and that the debris would be smaller, you are looking for a needle in haystack."
Both recorders were recovered from the crash of Air India Flight 182, which was blown up off the Irish coast in 1985.
They were recovered from some 2,000 metres in a search which lasted more than two weeks.
Two years later, South African Airways Flight 295 crashed into the Indian Ocean near Mauritius, triggering the deepest hunt for an airliner yet undertaken, with investigators recovering the cockpit voice recorder after a three-month search from a record depth of more than 4,200 metres.
Underwater search and rescue expert Greg Updike said equipment exists today to search for downed wrecked at great depths.
"Every 33 feet is an atmosphere and of course the deeper you go, the more pressure you get. But with the gear you have today, they can make some very deep dives," said Mr. Updike, owner of Alaska Commercial Divers. Some suits can take divers 3,000 deep.
Anything deeper would involve a variety of other search techniques, from dragging a net across an area to using sonar to map the ocean floor.
"In this case, because of the way the wreckage will go, they're going to have to take a submarine down there, a small sub with two or three people in there," he said.
The Pourquoi Pas is equipped with such a sub as well as a remote-controlled sub.
"If the plane came from 40,000 feet and hit, it's going to be almost impossible to find anything bigger than the motor," he said. "You're going to have that debris scattered, maybe five to ten miles."
National Post, with files from wire services
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid= ... in_america
Brazil Navy to Reach Crash Debris as Undersea Search Is Planned
By Francisco Marcelino and Helene Fouquet
June 3 (Bloomberg) -- A Brazilian ship today is due to reach floating debris from the Air France plane that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, as recovery crews prepared to search for the wreckage at a depth of almost 2 miles.
The debris spotted by searchers yesterday off northeastern Brazil confirms that the Airbus SAS A330-200 crashed, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said in Rio de Janeiro. The material, found over a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) stretch of ocean, consists of wire and metal pieces, he said. The debris was found about 650 kilometers northeast of Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha island.
A Brazilian patrol vessel will reach the site today at about 11 a.m. New York time, according to a Navy statement. Plane parts are marked with identification numbers that would allow the components to be tracked. Flight 447 went down with 228 people aboard as it flew to Paris from Rio de Janeiro.
“There is no doubt the debris is from the Air France plane, but we still need to do a formal analysis to confirm it,” French Defense Ministry spokesman Christophe Prazuck said today in a telephone interview. “This will happen in the next few days. We need to find a piece of debris that bears a distinctive sign, like a serial number.” He declined to comment further on the investigation.
The wreckage may be located at a depth of 2,000 to 3,000 meters (6,600 to 9,800 feet), French Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said today. France is sending a mini-submarine to the site aboard an oceanographic vessel, Prazuck said. The mini-sub can dive 6,000 meters and will be used to recover the plane’s flight-data and voice recorders after the wreckage is found. The ship will take about eight days to reach the area.
Some of the plane’s exterior sensors had frozen, Borloo said on France’s RMC radio, confirming a report on the Web site of the weekly magazine Le Point. The magazine also said the last transmission from the plane concerned electrical failures.
Air France said it isn’t ruling out a lightning strike on the aircraft, which reported an electrical-circuit breakdown and sent 10 automated distress messages before it vanished. The debris was found away from the flight path, suggesting the plane may have attempted to turn back, Brazilian Air Force Colonel Jorge Amaral said yesterday.
The French Aviation Accidents Investigation Bureau expects to publish a preliminary report on the crash by the end of this month, Paul Louis Arslanian, head of the agency, said at a news conference in Paris today.
It may be “weeks or months” before any cause is determined, French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said in an interview on French radio station Europe One yesterday.
The plane probably flew into thunderstorms that stretched for 600 kilometers, towered as high as 15,000 meters and may have produced lightning, State College, Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather.com said yesterday in a statement. Updrafts as strong as 160 kilometers per hour may have resulted from the storms, creating “severe” turbulence, it said.
“Did we enter a period of climate shocks of an extraordinary violence? This is a question we will have to ask ourselves,” Borloo said. “Experts are divided on that question.”
Terrorism was unlikely and isn’t thought by investigators to have been the cause, although it can’t be ruled out, he said.
“There is no sign of an attack. It was a sudden problem but it wasn’t instantaneous,” Borloo said. All checks on the aircraft were done correctly before the takeoff, he added.
Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar ordered three days of mourning as a mark of respect for the victims.
Brazil and France dispatched spotter planes, helicopters and navy vessels to locate the plane, which lost contact two days ago after hitting turbulence. The U.S. military is also assisting in the search.
The Paris prosecutor’s office took over the crash investigation from the prosecutor in Bobigny, near Charles de Gaulle airport, the plane’s destination. The prosecutor’s office has asked special aviation investigators to look into the events that caused the crash, it said in an e-mailed statement today.
The involvement of prosecutors in French air-crash investigations “is not required under law, but is customary,” Simon Foreman, a partner with Soulez Lariviere & Associes, said today in a telephone interview. The Paris law firm has been involved in several cases involving large-scale loss of life, including the Air France Concorde crash.
“Every time there is a catastrophe, prosecutors investigate the causes of death,” Foreman said.
“It is a practice that is much criticized by the aviation security community, because it inserts the police into every investigation,” he said. “People get intimidated once the police are involved.”
Air France said it may release the passenger list today. Those on board included 58 Brazilians, 61 French and 26 Germans as well as more than a dozen other nationalities. Brazil’s Jobim said the list may not be complete because some families requested the names of relatives not be made public.
Until now, the A330, a twin-engine airliner that carries about 250 people, had never had a fatal accident in commercial flight. A development model crashed after takeoff during testing, according to Paul Hayes, director of safety at Ascend, an aviation consultant in the U.K.
One high-profile incident with an A330 that didn’t include fatalities occurred on Oct. 7, 2008, when passengers and crew on a Qantas Airways Ltd. flight from Singapore to Perth were slammed into the cabin ceiling after the plane abruptly lost altitude. Fourteen people had serious injuries.
Australian air safety investigators said a month later that a fault in a flight system computer component may have caused the nosedive. The investigation is still under way.
Airbus yesterday said there’s no way of knowing yet whether there are similarities in the two cases.
“It’s premature to link the incidents as long as the investigators don’t have the flight recorder to give more visibility on what happened,” said Stefan Schaffrath, a company spokesman, in a phone interview from Airbus’s Toulouse, France, headquarters.
There are more than 600 A330s flying worldwide that have logged a total of 30 million flight hours, he said.
The missing Airbus was delivered to Air France in April 2005 and had flown about 18,000 hours on some 2,500 flights, the manufacturer said in a statement. The company said it is offering technical assistance in the investigation. Airbus declined to comment on the cause of the crash.
To contact the reporters on this story: Francisco Marcelino in Sao Paulo at firstname.lastname@example.org
; Helene Fouquet in Paris at Hfouquet1@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: June 3, 2009 06:04 EDT