The disappearance of Air France Flight 447 over the deep water Atlantic while en route from Rio to Paris on June 1, 2009, shocked the world and left a web of mysteries. What happened to bring the Airbus A330 with 228 people aboard down in the middle of the dark night? Theories, many of them speculative, abounded, including malfunctioning speed sensors or flight computers. Despite the lack of a clear cause, the crash is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation in France. Other questions remain: What happened to the wreckage? Was it too deep to recover? Would it ever be found?
Last week, at least a few of those questions were answered. The BEA, France’s aviation investigation authority, announced that it had located wreckage on the sea floor, nearly 13,000 feet below the surface.
How it arrived at this point is a story of science winning out over dumb luck. Soon after the crash, the BEA realized that searching the entire site from the last known position to where debris was found floating on the surface, a distance of more than 40 miles, would be a near-impossible task. So it applied statistical analysis to the hunt, reducing the size of the search area by taking into account the last known position, the position of the debris and the speed and direction of the currents, to focus the search. With a series of surveys narrowing the site, the effort finally paid off last week when wreckage was found by a team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
Fifty bodies of passengers were reportedly found, as well. And sections of every major section of the airplane, including the wings, engines and tail, were spotted.
But what of the search for the flight recorders? These are the so-called “black boxes” that will presumably give investigators their first solid clues as to what happened to bring down the flight without warning and without the pilots having made a distress call.
A new mission, to recover bodies, wreckage, and to find and recover the recorders, will launch soon and will be on site around the end of the month. Visit the Air France 447 Wreckage Recovered photo gallery for more pictures.
UPDATE: The flight data recorder has now been found. Click here to see the photos.