Ever since Air France Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic two years ago, killing 228 people, investigators have been trying to figure out what went wrong.
A month ago, the plane was finally found on the bottom of the Atlantic, with much of the fuselage intact. The cockpit “black boxes” were also found, but it wasn’t clear whether the data would be recoverable.
But now the mystery of what happened to Flight 447 may finally be close to being solved.
The data and cockpit audio tapes for the flight have been recovered, and they are in working order. According to the French agency investigating the crash (via Bloomberg), investigators have retrieved “all the data from the flight data recorder as well as the whole recording of the last two hours of the flight from the cockpit voice recorder.”
This information should be more than enough to explain what happened to the plane. The speculation thus far has been that the plane’s “pitot tubes” froze over, on account of the pilots flying directly into a high altitude storm. This could have disrupted the plane’s autopilot and prevented the pilots from accurately assessing the plane’s speed. At that altitude, this could have led the plane to stall–meaning that its speed dropped below the minimum required to keep it in the air.
Investigators have also argued about whether the plane broke up at high altitude or crashed intact. A medical team that performed autopsies on the bodies of some passengers believes that the pilots tried to land the plane in the ocean and, therefore, that some passengers may have survived the initial crash and later drowned. This, in turn, might mean that a failure to launch a rescue operation more quickly might have mattered.
The French agency investigating the crash, BEA, says it will release an “interim report” on the tapes and data in several weeks.