Source: GERALD TRAUFETTER spiegel.de
25 Feb 2010—The crash of Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris last year is one of the most mysterious accidents in the history of aviation. After months of investigation, a clear picture has emerged of what went wrong. The reconstruction of the horrific final four minutes reveal continuing safety problems in civil aviation.
One tiny technical failure heralded the impending disaster. But the measurement error was so inconspicuous that the pilots in the cockpit of the Airbus A330 probably hardly noticed it.
Air France flight 447 had been in the air for three hours and 40 minutes since taking off from Rio de Janeiro on the evening of May 31, 2009. Strong turbulence had been shaking the plane for half an hour.
One alarm after another lit up the cockpit monitors. One after another, the autopilot, the automatic engine control system, and the flight computers shut themselves off. "It was like the plane was having a stroke," says Gérard Arnoux, the head of the French pilots union SPAF.
The final minutes of flight AF 447 had begun. Four minutes after the airspeed indicator failed, the plane plunged into the ocean, killing all 228 people on board.
Few airline crashes in recent years have subsequently unnerved passengers to quite the same extent. "How was it possible that an Airbus from such an apparently safe airline could simply disappear?" they wondered.
Passengers on the Rio-Paris route are still uneasy as they board their plane. After the accident, the flight number was changed to AF 445.
Over the course of several months of investigation, experts have gathered evidence that allows them to reconstruct with relative accuracy what happened on board during those last four minutes. It has also brought to light a safety flaw that affects all jet airplanes currently in service. "An accident like this could happen again at any time," Arnoux predicts.
On the night of the tragedy, other planes diverted their flight paths and took a detour around the danger zone.
Why then did flight AF 447 head straight into the deadly storm system? Is it possible that the tragedy began even before the plane took off? continue reading at spiegel international