FF Safety: Air France 447 : Search (Part Two)

Today is the second of a five-part series exploring the loss of Air France Flight 447 and the lessons firefighters can learn about effective teamwork, communication and decision making in a high risk environment.

In the days immediately after the disappearance of AF-447, bodies and lighter pieces of the aircraft were located on the ocean surface in a swath east of where the airliner was presumed to have gone down. With so little physical evidence as to cause, finding the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR),  as well as heavier parts of the aircraft was crucial.  Unfortunately, not only was the exact final flight track not known but the ocean floor in the area of the crash was mountainous, rugged and extremely deep.  One of the greatest searches on record was about to begin as the combined naval resources of Brazil, France, the US and other countries converged on the area in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to find the wreckage before the beacon signals from the FDR and CVR failed.

Water depths in the defined search area ranged from about 2500 feet deep to more than 13,000 and the zone extended some 40 nautical miles from the aircraft’s last known position.  (AF-447 had made a slight left hand course correction minutes before the emergency commenced.) The French Navy supplied a Frigate, a nuclear submarine, and a command ship.  The US Navy provided “pinger” hydrophones which were towed over the sea bed at a slow rate of speed.  Other highly specialized deep-water submersibles and support vessels were also pressed into service.


Remarkably, the wreckage was eventually located on a plain about 13,000 feet below the surface and west of the filed flight plan.  The debris field was fairly dense, though several pieces were found well outside of it.  Damage was uniform in that it showed terrific compressive forces from the bottom up throughout much of the length of the aircraft.  Galley carts, overhead luggage bins, even the wing box were crushed.





The debris field was carefully mapped and photographed using the deep-dive submersibles, some equipped with side-scanning sonar.  Amazingly, both the FDR and CVR were recovered long after their beacons had ceased to function.  When retrieved and examined they yielded crucial information about just what happened that night.

 Read Part One: http://turnoutblog.com/?p=414


Tomorrow- FF Safety: Air France Flight 447  Cockpit (Part Three)



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