General Question

marcosthecuban's avatar

Will you help me understand what happened with the Air France Jet?

Asked by marcosthecuban (422 points ) June 4th, 2009

Don’t all commercial airliners stay in touch with some tower at all times? if there wasn’t a massive explosion, why didn’t the pilots take a few seconds to radio in the nature of their problem?

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17 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

How about a link to a story on the event you’re referring to?

Bobbydavid's avatar

It’s been all over the news. Do you really need a link?

Darwin's avatar

From what I understand there was in essence a massive explosion in the form of severe weather. Sometimes weather doesn’t give anyone a few seconds to do anything except realize a Bad Thing is happening. However, it is all guesswork unless and until someone can retrieve and analyze the “black box.”

DeanV's avatar

The jet encountered a large thunderstorm, with 100mph plus winds, attempted to fly through the smaller parts of the storm, and broke up.

The pilots were probably too busy trying to keep the plane in the air to radio, or their communications were cut by gusts of wind, which is more likely. I doubt there was a massive explosion. I think it was probably more of a windows breaking, cabin losing pressurization, plane disintegrating situation.

Judi's avatar

Maybe it’s time for the black box to evolve to something with a satellite transmission of what is going on in the cockpit at all times. Sort of like an open satellite telephone conversation with an answering machine.
They are not in “constant” communication, per say, but they talk to a controller who hands them off to another controller. I don’t know if they are ever out of communication on trans continental flights though.

DeanV's avatar

@Judi: They’re never out of communication range, but it is fairly common for radio communication to be lost in storms like that. It was one hell of a storm.

Mr_Callahan's avatar

Depending on the nature of the explosion, this plane could have been ripped apart in a couple of seconds. The physics in play are enormous with the plane traveling at least 3–500mp and the winds at over 100mph. It all happened very quickly.

CMaz's avatar

It went boom!

Jeruba's avatar

Yes. I do not watch television. But never mind, thanks anyway.

aprilsimnel's avatar

No, @ChazMaz, it went rrrrripp! If it had gone boom! there wouldn’t have been any fuel streaks on the surface of the ocean because the fuel burns off in an explosion.

And no one’s getting that black box for the time being. It’s probably 9,000+ miles down. The GPS in this case is just like the one in the Maps function on an iPhone, which is uni-directional from the satellite to the object and it doesn’t bounce back. Also, I read that the streaks of fuel near the debris means the disintegration scenario is more likely, and that the pilots were probably flying too slowly to beat the storm.

MissAusten's avatar

I think the mystery isn’t helped by the plane being out of radar range. I saw something on the news about how planes over the middle of the ocean like that can’t be monitored on radar.

CMaz's avatar

Ok, I will go with the disintegration scenario.

mattbrowne's avatar

Let’s be patient. Good answers will take time. Because of kerosene floating on the Atlantic ocean an explosion most likely can be ruled out.

Kayak8's avatar

Once they are over the ocean, the type of communication changes. Over land, they can use a radio that the pilot simply has to key. At sea, it is more like shortwave radio that you have to tune in. If you are in the cockpit dealing with other issues, it may not be possible to take the time to tune in and make a may day call.

bpeoples's avatar

It is still possible that there was a fire/explosion that only disintegrated the plane, although that is unlikely. That is, it is likely that the plane broke up mid air or as it hit the ocean.

This particular model of jet has a sort of “error correction” software, which can cause the aircraft to not perform as expected in very unlikely circumstances. I believe they have patched the bug (caused a couple of incidences of uncommanded descents)—http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2009/02/18/322778/faa-mandates-third-a330-a340-inertial-navigation-fault.html

That said, it is possible that the radio comms were out when the electrical system fault began, and in the 4 minutes prior to the breakup of the craft (when the cabin pressure was reported to be lost by the automatic system), or they were busy trying to keep the plane up.

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