What Happened To Air France Flight 447?

Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 725 km (450 miles) northeast of Brazil at about 2:30 a.m. local time, Monday, June 1. The accident occurred three hours into the 11-hour flight; 228 people were aboard the twin-engine Airbus A330-200 jet. While flying at 521 mph (839 kph) at 35,000 feet (10,671 m) at 2:15 a.m., the plane encountered heavy turbulence. An automated communications system in the airplane began an exchange of data with Air France maintenance computers on the ground that totaled four minutes and indicated that multiple electrical and pressurization failures had occurred. The last contact was at 2:33 a.m. There was no distress call from the pilots. Brazilian air force planes searching the area found a five-kilometer strip of floating debris including cables and fuel slicks. Brazilian and French ships should arrive early Wednesday to begin the accident investigation and the recovery of bodies. (See early news bulletins, 1 and 2, and later bulletin 3)

Determining what actually happened will require recovering and examining the remnants of the airplane, in particular the major fragments of the airframe, the engines, and most importantly the flight recorders (flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder). Without the benefit of a pilot’s radio report, investigators would only have the flight histories of the selected components and parameters that are monitored by the flight recorders. One worry is that the flight recorders are submerged at between 9,000 ft (2744 m) and 14,000 ft (4268 m) and may be difficult to find; their casings are designed to withstand the pressure of 6000 m (19,680 ft) depth for up to 30 days.

Speculation about what may have happened centers on lightning causing a massive electrical surge that caused the failure of (fused, short-circuited, overloaded) the fly-by-wire flight controls; and severe buffeting in a thunderstorm, which disrupted the flight-path.

Pilots of fly-by-wire airplanes do not normally use muscles or hydraulics to move the many flaps and the rudder; electric motors controlled by computers do this to an extent set by the pilots’ manipulation of their control levers, pedals and wheels. The lightning-blackout scenario is unlikely because lightning strikes happen regularly in commercial and military aviation, and airplanes are designed to withstand them (by keeping the electrical charges outside the plane’s interior, because of the all-metal hull and wing surfaces). Also, pilots are trained (in simulators) to compensate for loss of the fly-by-wire system by using the mechanical control system of the trim tabs to push the bigger flaps and the rudder into place. Trim tabs the smallest of the many types of movable flaps, which act like the tails of weathervanes, pushing the larger flaps or rudders they are embedded in into new angles; in normal operation the trim tabs are an assist and a fine adjustment.

The lack of a distress call from the pilots suggests two possibilities: their radios were inoperative or had lost power (which would be odd since the automated data transmission system was functioning), or a very sudden breakup of the airframe in flight. Airframes of modern commercial airliners like the Airbus A330-200 are designed to withstand the buffeting of air turbulence and the stresses of the severe turns and dives that may occur in emergencies. If the airframe broke up prior to impact with the water, what was its cause? Obvious guesses are: missile, bomb and fuel tank explosion.

There is no evidence of a missile attack, so we eliminate that guess. Sabotage by bomb is also discounted, because that guess requires too many elaborate assumptions. Actually, any speculation is entirely unjustified at this point, since recovering evidence and systematic analysis have yet to begin. However, events like this inspire fear and cause minds to race, speculating on causes and meanings.

So, we are led to the question of a fuel tank explosion, could it have happened in AF 447 as either a natural event (electrostatic discharge into fuel-air vapors above liquid fuel in an agitated tank) or an unintended electro-mechanical failure (spark from wire exposed by damaged insulation, into fuel-air vapors) as in the TWA Flight 800 disaster of 1996.

The fuel tanks of airliners are fitted into the wings and the section of the hull below the passenger deck and along the length of the wing roots. The central fuel tank between the wings is usually the single largest volume fuel container. As a plane climbs to higher elevation, the atmospheric pressure drops and so the air originally contained in a fuel tank at the airport seeks to expand; if the tank were sealed this would cause the internal pressure to increasing exceed the external pressure and put great stress on the tank walls. Similarly, as fuel is pumped out of a tank to the engines, the space evacuated must be filled with ambient air to avoid creating a vacuum that would resist subsequent pumping. So, fuel tanks are designed with vents that allow air to flow in, and fuel-air vapors to flow out as needed to equalize pressures at any altitude. The vents are in the form of pipes that run from the central fuel tank through the wing tanks and out to the wing tips where an orifice, at each wing tip, allows for the exchange of air.

Because hydrocarbon liquids and vapors are very insulating electrically, and metals are excellent conductors, there is always a build-up of electrostatic charge between fuel flows and metal containers. This is why sparks can be generated when fuels are pumped into rapid flows or sprays near metal surfaces. There have been many accidents caused by electrostatic discharges into fuel-air mixtures, which were initiated by improperly grounded or excessively turbulent pumping procedures. The petroleum industry has long known about this phenomenon, and developed many standards for the design and operation of fuel pumping and storage equipment. Also, many fuels have chemical additives that enhance their electrical conductivity, to significantly reduce their ability to hold electrostatic charges (reducing the electrostatic build-up relative to the metal piping and containers during pumping and/or sloshing).

The fuel vent pipes of airliners are one type of fuel pumping system. These must be designed to minimize the electrostatic build-up between the flowing fuel-air mixture and the pipe walls. Larger diameter vent pipes will keep flow velocities low (electrostatic build-up and the possibility of sparking increase with flow velocity). Plenum chambers and baffles along the flow path can help prevent bursts of rapid flow in reaction to some mechanical jolt to the wing structure or some sudden drop in external air pressure (which would impulsively draw out fuel-air vapors). Using additives to significantly increase the fuel’s conductivity is also extremely helpful.

Because the airplane manufacturing, airline transport and fuel industries routinely do a good job of managing the fuel and fueling risks, it is rare that we hear about fuel fires and explosions on the tarmac or in flight. However, fuel vapor explosion accidents still do happen; a Boeing 737-400 parked at the gate in 2001 had its center tank explode, killing one person.

Despite the many airliners that experience lightning strikes without harm, it may be that the destruction of AF 447 was the rare instance of lightning igniting the fuel-air vent flow, which subsequently caused a major fuel tank explosion.

Whatever the cause of the loss of AF 447, the loss of 228 lives demands that it be found, and the lesson applied to improve air transport safety.

Manuel Garcia, Jr. is an occasional writer who is always independent. His e-mail address is: mangogarcia@att.net. Read other articles by Manuel, or visit Manuel's website.

26 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. addyction said on June 3rd, 2009 at 9:19am #

    This is not an accident ?!
    Air France jet with 228 people on board is feared to have crashed in the ocean off the coast of Brazil.
    Heard this on the radio earlier on my way back home from the mall. Air France flight AF 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared from the radar while flying over the Atlantic Ocean.
    The video from the scene:Air France jet-video-online

  2. nader paul kucinich gravel said on June 3rd, 2009 at 9:35am #

    Massive cover up is being sold to the public –

  3. Michael Kenny said on June 3rd, 2009 at 12:25pm #

    What exactly is the point of this article? What is it doing on a political website? There’s nothing political in it! There isn’t even the French Government “cover up” referred to in a previous comment.

  4. Danny Ray said on June 3rd, 2009 at 12:36pm #

    Well one thing for sure this is the first time I have ever agreed with Mr. Kenny completely, Michael we shall have to try this again sometimes.

  5. Trevor said on June 3rd, 2009 at 1:31pm #

    Yep! Massive cover-up! And I didn’t even think of potential cover-up until I read this article. When I began to realize that the author was merely creating a “valid” reason for the crash, I stopped reading and just skimmed through the rest of the article. The most interesting part of the article is this description of the author.

    “Manuel Garcia, Jr. is a retired physicist, and is available for hire as a presidential speech writer at steep rates.”

    What? He’s a presidential speech writer, which means to me that he knows how to write lies professionally, and he is more than willing to do so for “steep rates.”

  6. joed said on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:30pm #

    what’s the matter with you people. the author of this article has writen many articles about how to save your sorry asses should you ever find your sorry-assed-selves being shot at by the bad guys. and not necessarily shot at with lead bullets. you dopes spend too much time in this FREE SPEACH ZONE CALLED DISSIDENT VOICE.

  7. joed said on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:34pm #

    mr. garcia is perhaps one of the few true dissidents you will read on dissident voice. go to his site and find out–or don’t. you would probably just be in the way when the shit hits the fan for real.

  8. joed said on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:47pm #

    one of mr. garcia’s articles.

  9. Pancho said on June 4th, 2009 at 5:50am #

    It isn’t political as the man stated above unless it is a preparation for the coming conspiracy theory. Who on board ‘had to be killed’ and for what reason? Perhaps we are all so accustomed to flying and bitching about the warm beer and cheap wine that we have forgotten the miracle that occurs every time we safely land half-way round the shrinking planet.

    Accidental death and explosions still do sometimes happen, even when we are daily reminded that the overwhelming number of ‘normal’ explosions and drone murders are committed by our dear government.

  10. Brian said on June 4th, 2009 at 6:14am #

    Garcia has a history of writing articles on behalf of America’s ruling class. He is a member of the anti-conspiracy propagandists regarding the 9-11 crime

  11. denk said on June 5th, 2009 at 8:56am #

    on board were 9 chinese engineers, one of them the pivotal designer of china’s next generation nuclear aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine program.
    he just completed an exchange programe with his brazil counterpart, conerning brazil’s nuclear submarine project.

  12. Danny Ray said on June 5th, 2009 at 10:26am #

    Denk, China don’t have a nuclear aircraft carrier so there is no next generation nuke carrier, as for nuke subs they just build copies of Russian Boats, You can check it out at jane’s if you wish. I know how bad you hate America and want to blame it for all the bad in the world but sometimes shit just falls apart. As the Gentleman just above you and brian so well put it.

  13. denk said on June 5th, 2009 at 10:44am #

    danny ray,
    i know china hasnt got a carrier yet,
    may be i should say china’s first aircraft carrier.
    and this guy is the top man for both carrier and submarine project.

    as for me hating usa, may be you should ask why the WORLD hates usa instead

    fyi, cia did try to kill chou enlai once

  14. Danny Ray said on June 5th, 2009 at 2:44pm #

    I am so very sorry, I misunderstood your use of the word. normal usage of the term Generation as in war ships or aircraft means the next in the design or class. or the step in design before the one curently in use.

    I did a little research amoung friends who are in the know about such things, China has no carriers at this time and do not seem to be ready to build one. They may perhaps be building something similar to out Marine landing ships. however they would need to adopt V-Stol aircraft
    The Russians have one which I am sure they would sell.

    The problem is China don’t need a carrier, Carriers are for power projection and they has never been part of th peoples republic’s game plan.

  15. Danny Ray said on June 5th, 2009 at 2:45pm #

    Should be “That has never.”

  16. eduardo said on June 5th, 2009 at 2:49pm #

    The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has confirmed that Xiao Xiang, one of their associate research fellow of its institute of Engineering Thermophysics, was onboard Air France flight 447 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009.

    Beneficiaries of one of the Chinese passengers onboard Air France Flight 447 may get 9.6 million yuan (US$1.4 million) in insurance, the largest amount ever paid to an individual in China.


  17. denk said on June 5th, 2009 at 5:33pm #

    Danny Ray
    **I am so very sorry, I misunderstood your use of the word. normal usage of the term Generation as in war ships or aircraft means the next in the design or class. or the step in design before the one curently in use.**

    not need to be sacarstic, i already said i used the wrong word.
    cut some slack for a chinaman’s english eh ?

    **, Carriers are for power projection and they has never been part of th peoples republic’s game plan.**

    this we can agree on.

  18. Danny Ray said on June 5th, 2009 at 6:56pm #

    I did not mean that to be sarcastic. you my friend may have all the slack you need. your english is far better than my chinese. 🙂

  19. denk said on June 5th, 2009 at 7:00pm #

    danny ray,

    i must work on my english for better communication
    i still cant figure out the grammer part lol

  20. Avenueoflight said on June 6th, 2009 at 7:27am #

    I would agree with the “WHO” was on board? Also, to continually keep “FEAR” instilled in the world’s eyes as 9/11 did so perfectly. Fear, Fear, FEAR
    . When FEAR is present; DOUBT comes into play. You may do some digging(deep) into my site; as their global intentions are soon to be shown and the whole world is totally asleep and UNaware of the fast approaching soon massive genocide awaitng just around the corner, implementing their Novus Ordo Seclorum (back of the dollar bill). Placed there by Freemason’s under the hand of the Jesuit Order under the Black Pope (Superior General of the Jesuit Order).

    Their bringing forth of the “GREAT CHASTISEMENT” and the DEpopulation of the planet declared on the Georgia Guidestones from (6.2 billion down to 5.5 million). The whole world is deceived.
    Soon the chip(mark) will be implemented; and without one you will not be able to buy or sell(eat, drink) etc…. I aaure you; this is no game here and most eternally serious as every person’s soul is the prize.
    Think not, visit my site. All I state is documented there; using “THEIR” words as evidence against them .
    Lord Bless, Avenueoflight

  21. Mario said on June 8th, 2009 at 11:04pm #

    I have faith that the US Navy shot down flight 447 just as it did TWA flight 800, which as the author eroneously mentioned was a result of a mechanical malfunction. This explains why the US Navy has been so helpful in the rescue and retrieval. The Americans hope to recover the black box before anyone else does so the world does not discover they are behind the attrocity. The USA is behind almost all the world’s disasters. The American people are full of blood lust.

  22. Ken said on June 11th, 2009 at 9:40am #

    Cover up? Yes, I believe Airbus (big government owned corporation) started that on the first day when they tried to blame the pilot for the accident just like in the NY Airbus crash. The tail came off in flight on that one as well. Poor design? It’s a good possibility, but how many and in what systems. Obviously the composite tail is a problem that Airbus refuses to address. To do so would be to admit a faulty design of the structure. Are the ADIRU and autopilot problems? Yes, There is no hiding those and that information is out there as well. How about lightening? That could be a problem due to the amount of composite material used in the airframe and how little we know about the Faraday effect on those airframes and wiring within. Airbus stands to lose the most if the real truth is discovered. I believe the big wigs over in France already have a good idea of what happened and have no genuine interest in finding the FDR and CVR’s. I’m sure, in the unfortunate event, they are found, they are working on ways to shift the blame to the pilots or a specific component. In essence, they have been doing that already with the pitot probes changes on the fleet.

    On the issue of Flight 800, I believe it was hit by a missle from a NAVY ship. I believe it was an oops that was covered up. Boeing took it up the tail pipe on that one.

    As for Mario’s comments, NUTS!

  23. The diplomat said on June 14th, 2009 at 8:55pm #

    I believe it was shot down by a navy or some other military post or arm. Most likely US. It was most likely shot down accidently through false identification but civil planes have an IFF signal (international friend or foe) but perhaps this was switched off or malfunctioned. The US has already shot down one airliner and sent another to its death -remember KAL-007. Except in that case no bodies or significant debris has ever been found. Perhaps a US sub shot 447 down. If it was shot down then why is the big question. If someone thought it was a threat then why was no effort of indentifying the plane used. Who was on the plane? The military would have weather data and could have picked a storm as the perfect cover. But can a 25 kilo missle completely blow up a jumbo?

  24. mary said on June 19th, 2009 at 11:20pm #

    Flight AF 447 – These two further articles indicate that the tail fell off and that there is a likelihood of components of the fuselage made of composite materials having fractured.

    Ground the Airbus?
    William John Cox


  25. Al said on June 27th, 2009 at 6:10pm #

    This is fucking bullshit.
    Also check out:
    Raytheon and the murders of:
    John F. Kennedy JR – Jul 16 1999
    Mel Carnahan – Oct 17 2000
    Paul Wellstone – Oct 25 2002
    Michael Connell – Dec 19 2008
    Beverly Eckert – Feb 12 2009

    Killing them all in plane crashes the same exact way. These are big time agents for real change that are being killed. It’s like a whitewashed 60’s.
    The difference being that in the 60’s at least they admitted that the people were assassinated JFK, RFK MLK, etc….. true the lone gunman bs is crap but at least they acknowledged a killer. In these the directed energy war against us they blame it all on the weather and mother nature. Funny thing is when we can control microwaves we are mothernature.

  26. Sandy said on July 26th, 2009 at 11:30am #

    Just a thought, with the warming of airflow of air at near 500MPH the warming effects of air friction on the pitotubes whould be plus 100 degrees F. This probably not get the aircraft above freezeing. This couldrequire a Tittanic effert..