Air France Crash-Search Closer to ‘Black Boxes’ as Tail Is Found

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  • Posted on April 12, 2011


    Salvage teams work to retrieve debris from the wreckage of Air France flight 447 off the coast of Brazil. Source: Forca Aerea Brasileira via Bloomberg

    Flight recorders that could reveal why an Air France plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 killing 228 people are closer to being retrieved after a diving robot found the section of fuselage where they were mounted.

    The tail from the Airbus SAS A330-200 jetliner has been discovered, Nelson Marinho, president of an association for families of the crash victims, said today in a phone interview from Paris after meeting yesterday with Jean-Paul Troadec, director of the BEA, France’s air-accident investigator.

    The recorders themselves haven’t yet been found, BEA spokeswoman Martine Del Bono said today. Known as black boxes, the devices store detailed technical information and records of cockpit conversations and are designed to survive heavy impacts.

    Debris from Air France Flight 447 was located at a depth of 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) earlier this month after a fourth search attempt. The A330 went down on June 1, 2009, after departing Rio de Janeiro for Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

    Another search vessel will leave Senegal on April 21 to head for the site, French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said yesterday in a statement. Attempts will also be made to recover bodies that have been sighted with the wreckage.

    The discovery of the A330 fragments renews hopes that the cause of the crash will be found, Air France-KLM (AF) Group Chief Executive Officer Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said on April 3. Both Air France and Airbus have been charged with manslaughter over the accident, the worst in the Paris-based carrier’s history.

    Speed Sensors

    The BEA has said a contributing factor may have been the icing up of speed sensors, or Pitot tubes, causing unreliable readings. The agency made the suggestion after reviewing data transmitted in the last minutes before the crash.

    At least 13,000 photos have been taken of the debris zone, which includes an engine, the fuselage and pieces of wing and landing gear. None of the images gives an initial explanation of why the A330 fell from the sky, according to BEA chief investigator Alain Bouillard, who will lead the recovery effort.

    The wreckage is spread over a flat and sandy zone north of the plane’s last known position, Troadec has said. Recorders of the type used on the A330 have never spent so long at depth, he said, raising uncertainty that they will still be readable.

    747 Recovery

    Other black boxes found more than a year after an accident have yielded information. In the case of a South African Airways Boeing Co. 747 that crashed in the Indian Ocean in 1987, a deep- water recovery team found the voice recorder in 16,000 feet of water more than a year later.

    Air France CEO Gourgeon said last month there’s no evidence that the crash was caused by the Pitot tubes, which were made by Thales SA. (HO) Bouillard also said last year that speed-sensor failure couldn’t alone explain the crash, and that aviation records in Europe and the U.S. document dozens of incidents where the probes failed and pilots retained control.

    Air France shares close 2 percent higher at 11.56 euros today, paring declines this year to 15 percent. Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. fell 1.1 percent to 20.66 euros and has advanced 18 percent so far in 2011.

    To contact the reporters on this story: Arnaldo Galvao in Brasilia at agalvao1@bloomberg.net; Andrea Rothman in Paris at aerothman@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

    Bloomberg/AC