French Investigators Conclude Air France Flight 447 Did Not Break Apart in Flight

 - July 2, 2009, 10:35 AM

The condition of the wreckage recovered from that Air France A330-200 that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1 indicates that the airplane broke apart upon hitting the water, not while in flight as previously hypothesized, according to an interim report issued by the French civil aviation accident investigation bureau (BEA) today.

“The elements identified came from all areas of the airplane,” said the report. “Visual examination showed that the airplane was not destroyed in flight; it appears to have struck the surface of the sea in a straight line with high vertical acceleration.”

Other facts revealed today include the following: the last radio exchange between the crew and Brazilian ATC occurred at 1:35 a.m.; at 2:01 a.m., the crew tried, without success for the third time, to connect to the Dakar ATC ADS-C system; up to the last automatic position point, received at 2:10:35 a.m., the flight had followed the route indicated in the flight plan; AF447 encountered powerful cumulonimbus clusters, some of which could have been the center of “notable” turbulence; several airplanes that flew before or after AF447 at about the same altitude altered their routes to avoid cloud masses; the Air France A330-200’s ACARS sent 24 automatic messages between 2:10 and 2:15 a.m.; and the messages show inconsistency between the measured speeds “as well as the associated consequences.”

Search and rescue operations, involving Brazilian, French, U.S. and Spanish navies, ended their patrols on June 26, after not having found any bodies or airplane parts for nine days. Meanwhile, the first phase of the search for the flight’s data recorders will continue until July 10, by which time it is expected that they will have stopped emitting acoustic signals. After that time, said the BEA, the French research vessel Pourquoi Pas? will begin a second phase of the search using diving equipment and towed sonar.  

Search crews have recovered the bodies of 51 of the 228 people on board Flight 447. Plans call for authorities to send all the airplane wreckage so far recovered from Recife, Brazil to France for more thorough investigation.