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Air France Flight 447 Crashed The Sea

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Air France Flight 447 was an Airbus A330-203 on a scheduled international passenger flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France, that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean on 1 June 2009. After discovery of wreckage on 2 June, it is presumed that none of the 228 people aboard survived.


The last human contact with the air crew was a series of routine messages to Brazilian ground controllers 3 hours and 30 minutes into the flight, as the aircraft approached the edge of Brazilian radar surveillance preparing to cross the Atlantic, en-route to the Senegalese coast of West Africa, where it would regain radar coverage. Forty minutes later, a four-minute-long series of automatic ACARS messages was received from the plane, indicating electrical and cabin pressurization problems with the aircraft.


After the aircraft failed to appear on Senegalese radar, and failed to contact air traffic control on either continent, a search for it was initiated. The aircraft is believed to have been lost shortly after it sent the ACARS messages.

On the morning of 2 June, Brazilian Air Force planes spotted debris in the ocean. A passing French merchant vessel later confirmed that the debris came from the missing airliner. France then dispatched the research ship Pourquoi Pas?, equipped with two mini-submarines capable of performing search operations at the 4.7 km (2.9 mi) depth of the seabed in the area where the aircraft went down.

The accident is the deadliest in the history of Air France, surpassing the crash of an Air France charter flight from Paris's Orly Field to Atlanta on 3 June 1962. Paul-Louis Arslanian, the head of the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA), described the incident as the "worst" aviation accident and incident in French history.

Incident

The Air France Airbus A330-203 (tail number F-GZCP) was on a scheduled international passenger flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France. The aircraft departed Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport on 31 May 2009 at 19:03 local time (22:03 UTC), with a scheduled arrival at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport approximately 11 hours later.

The last verbal contact with the aircraft was at 01:33 UTC, when it was near waypoint INTOL (1°21'39?S 32°49'53?W) located 565 km (351 mi) off Brazil's north-eastern coast. The crew reported that they expected to use UN873 airway and enter Senegalese-controlled airspace at waypoint TASIL (4°0'18?N 29°59'24?W) within 50 minutes, and that the aircraft was flying normally at an altitude of 10,670 m (35,000 ft) and a speed of 840 km/h (520 mph). The aircraft left Brazil Atlantic radar surveillance at 01:48 UTC.

The last contact with the aircraft was at 02:14 UTC, four hours after take-off, when its avionics automatically transmitted several messages via ACARS indicating multiple systems failures. The first of these messages, at 2:10 UTC, reportedly indicated that the autopilot had disengaged and the fly-by-wire computers had switched to an alternate program used in the event of multiple system failures. Next, the aircraft transmitted several messages indicating failures of the Air Data Inertial Reference Unit, the Integrated Standby Instrument System (a backup system providing basic flight instruments), and two of the three flight control computers. The final message received, at 02:14 UTC, indicated a possible cabin depressurization at location 3°34'40?N 30°22'28?W.

According to Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon these faults created a "totally unprecedented situation in the plane". At that time, the probable location of the aircraft was about 100 km (62 mi) from the waypoint TASIL, assuming that the flight had been proceeding as planned.

Search and rescue

Brazilian air traffic controllers contacted air traffic control in Dakar at 02:20 UTC, when they noticed that the plane had not made the required radio call signaling its crossing into Senegalese airspace. The Brazilian Air Force started a search and rescue operation from the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. French reconnaissance planes were also dispatched, including one Breguet Atlantic from Dakar. The French also requested help from satellite equipment from the United States to help find the plane. Brazilian Air Force spokesman Col. Henry Munhoz told Brazilian TV that radar on Cape Verde failed to pick up the aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean, saying, "Air Force planes left Fernando de Noronha and are flying towards Europe to start the search for the missing plane." Since 19:00 UTC on 1 June, Spain has been operating a CASA 235 maritime patrol plane in search and rescue operations near Cape Verde.At night, Brazilian Air Force continued the search with a C-130 and an Embraer R-99.

Early on, officials with Air France and the French government presumed that the plane had been lost with no survivors. An Air France spokeswoman told L'Express that there was "no hope for survivors." French President Nicolas Sarkozy told relatives of the passengers that there is only a minimal chance that anyone survived.

On 2 June, two ships of the French Navy, Foudre and Ventôse, were en route to the suspected crash site. A French Air Force E-3 Sentry took off at 17:00 CEST, complementing two Atlantique 2 aircraft and a Falcon 50 of the Navy.[citation needed] Bad weather made the search by ship and plane difficult. Also among the ships sent to the site was the French research vessel Pourquoi Pas?, equipped with two mini-submarines that can descend to 6,000 m (20,000 ft). The area of the Atlantic in which the plane went down may be as deep as 4,700 m (15,000 ft). A United States Navy Lockheed Martin P3 Orion MR submarine-hunting aircraft was also deployed in the search due to its low altitude endurance and patrol capability, sonar and magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) sensor suite.

On 3 June, the first Brazilian Navy ship, the corvette Grajaú, reached the area in which the first debris was spotted. The Brazilian Navy has sent a total of five ships to the debris site; the frigate F Constituição and the corvette Caboclo are scheduled to reach the area on 4 June.

Crash site

An oil slick caused by the crashed Air France flight.

At 15:20 UTC on 2 June, the Brazilian Air Force found wreckage strewn in a 5 km (3 mi) long band 650 km (400 mi) northeast of Fernando de Noronha Island, near St. Peter and Paul Rocks. It included a plane seat, an orange buoy, a barrel, "white pieces and electrical conductors" and signs of oil and jet fuel.

Later that day, after meeting with relatives of the Brazilians on the aircraft, Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobim confirmed that the debris found off the coast was from Flight 447. Brazilian vice-president José Alencar (acting as president since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is out of the country) declared three days of official mourning after the finding was confirmed. President Lula stated that the search for any eventual survivors has not stopped, while adding that it is unlikely that anyone did survive.

Early the next morning, French military spokesperson Christophe Prazuck also confirmed the discovery, saying "there was no longer any room for doubt" that the debris was from the aircraft.

The aircraft was carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members in two cabins of service. Three pilots were amongst the crew. Among the 216 passengers were one baby, seven children, 82 women, and 126 men. 58-year-old flight captain Marc Dubois, who joined Air France in 1988, had approximately 11,000 flight hours, with 1,700 hours on an Airbus A330. The two co-pilots, 37-year-old David Robert and 32-year-old Pierre-Cedric Bonin, had over 9,000 flight hours between them. Of the twelve crew members, eleven were French and one was Brazilian.

According to an official list made public by Air France, most of the passengers were French, Brazilian, and German citizens. In addition to this, there were some passengers on this flight who either held or may have held dual citizenship.

An ecumenical service was held at Notre Dame de Paris on 3 June 2009 in memory of the people aboard the flight. Pope Benedict XVI offered his sincere condolences and the apostolic blessing to the victims' families and loved ones in a message of condolence sent in his name to the French apostolic nunciature via telegram by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone.

Notable passengers

Prince Pedro Luís of Orléans-Bragança, third in line of succession to the extinct throne of Brazil, was on the flight. He had dual Brazilian-Belgian citizenship. He lived in Luxembourg, where he worked for a bank, and was returning from a visit to his relatives in Rio de Janeiro.

Two Brazilian executives of Michelin, along with one French executive of the group, were passengers on the flight. The chairman of German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp's Brazilian unit Company Atlantic Siderúrgica (CSA) was also on board. The list of passengers also included the head of the Office of the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, his wife, and a former conductor of the Symphony Orchestras of the Brasilia National Theatre and the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre. Eithne Walls from Northern Ireland, who had performed on Broadway with Riverdance, was returning home from a holiday in Brazil. Also on board was Juliana de Aquino, who had performed in various theatre productions in Germany.

A partial list of named crew and passengers on board the plane was released on 3 June 2009.

Investigation

The cause of the crash remains unknown. The Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) is tasked with the official investigation. BEA chief Paul-Louis Arslanian said that he is not optimistic about finding the plane's flight recorders, since they may be under as much as 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water and the terrain under this portion of the ocean is very rugged. Investigators are hoping to find the aircraft's tail, since the recorders are located there.

Bomb threat

It was confirmed that on 27 May, several days prior to this incident, Air France had received a telephoned bomb threat regarding an earlier flight from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Paris. Authorities at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires delayed the flight before take-off while conducting a 90-minute search of the threatened aircraft; passengers remained on the plane throughout. The search conducted by authorities yielded no explosive material, so the authorities allowed that flight to depart. The government of France has not yet ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack, but no one has yet claimed responsibility.


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