France Starts Fourth AF447 Search Campaign

 - March 25, 2011, 10:25 AM
Debris from the missing Air France A330-200 recovered from the Atlantic Ocean arrives at the port of Recife, Brazil on June 14, 2009.

A fourth search campaign to find out what happened to Air France Flight 447 on June 1, 2009, has begun off the Brazilian coast in the South Atlantic Ocean. Wreck-location operations will take place from the Alucia, a ship with three small, unmanned submarines onboard that left the harbor of Suape, Brazil, on March 22. All 228 aboard the Airbus A330 flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris died in the crash.

The latest search will start closer to the last known position (LKP). Search teams based the third attempt, conducted last year, on sophisticated drift simulations that directed them quite far north of the LKP. However, that approach yielded only disappointment.

This time a Remus 600 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) will start by exploring the seabed in a 20-nm circle around the LKP. If needed, it will extend the radius to 40 nm. So far, the searched area covers 2,000 square nautical miles. The unsearched area in the 40-nm radius measures about 3,000 square miles. Plans call for the campaign to be divided into three 36-day periods, with the team to be based in Brazil. The search campaign could last until July.

A Remus 6000 AUV measures about 13 feet long. During a typical 20- to 24-hour mission, it covers a 70-mile straight track at 3.5 knots. The navigation system uses both acoustic and inertial inputs. To map the seabed and detect the A330’s wreckage, the AUVs use side-scan sonars and cameras.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is leading the search campaign, although France’s BEA accident investigation agency is heading the investigation. Funding for the work has come from Airbus and Air France, who jointly have pledged to contribute approximately $13 million. If the campaign proves successful, a detailed observation and wreckage recovery phase would follow, funded by the French state.

In mid March French magistrate Judge Sylvie Zimmerman informed both Airbus and Air France that they are officially under investigation for their parts in the accident. Both companies have formally objected to being made subject to what is a preliminary criminal investigation.