ACARS Signals from Doomed Air France Jet Point to Catastrophic Break-Up

 - June 4, 2009, 8:19 AM

Brazilian search teams found more wreckage from Air France Flight 447 yesterday and today as evidence mounted that the Airbus A330 likely broke apart above the ocean while flying through a violent storm. Messages sent by the airplane’s ACARS reportedly indicate that after the pilot sent a manual signal that he was entering an area of cumulonimbus clouds, the autopilot disengaged, followed by a cascade of avionics faults and finally a loss a cabin pressure and complete electrical failure.

The NTSB today said it has accepted an invitation from France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) to assist in the investigation, which now involves search teams from Brazil and France, along with technical advisors from the U.S. FAA, engine manufacturer General Electric and Honeywell–the maker of the FDR and CVR.  

The aircraft, carrying 228 passengers and crewmembers, lost radio contact with controllers on Sunday evening while over the ocean as it entered an area of thunderstorm activity.

Brazilian search teams have begun to recover aircraft debris first spotted Tuesday morning roughly 400 miles northeast of the island archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, off Brazil’s coast. Brazilian air crews yesterday found more items some 55 miles south of the original debris field. Responding to a request from the French government, the Pentagon sent a P-3 surveillance aircraft and 21-member rescue crew to assist in the search.

The airplane apparently went down in an area where the sea floor lies between 9,000 and 14,000 feet below the surface, likely making recovery of the FDR and CVR a difficult task.