After more than two hours into a very long flight, most of the passengers on Flight 447 were probably settling down to sleep.Past midnight, on the first leg of a long flight and cruising at 35,000 feet, people may have been brushing their teeth, turning off reading lights — trying to get comfortable. Maybe a stewardess walked the aisle handing out blankets and small pillows with an Air France logo stitched onto the pillowcase.
We’ll never know, because at 12:15 a.m. Flight 447 from Rio to
Paris stalled, and tumbled through the sky for three-and-a-half minutes before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean killing everyone aboard.Today the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) released its update on the investigation into the 2009 flight that killed 228 people.
The recovery of the plane’s black boxes at 13,000 beneath the Atlantic earlier this month gave new life to the investigation and the BEA’s report gives a full account of the plane’s final moments.
It was originally believed that sensors on the plane’s wings were giving false airspeed readings as they iced over. The new data paints a fuller picture of what actually happened.
Just over two hours into the flight, the two co-pilots had a brief meeting with the captain. They wanted to climb above some approaching storm clouds, but concluded: “We’re in the cloud layer unfortunately and can’t climb for the moment because temperature is falling more slowly than forecast.” It wasn’t cold enough.
The captain left the cockpit and shortly thereafter the auto-pilot disengaged. Next, the crew noticed the speed sensors had failed. They responded by nosing the aircraft higher and a stall warning sounded “twice in a row”.
According to the BEA report, the co-pilots increased the angle of the climb and went from 35,000 feet to 37,500 feet. When the stall warning rang a third time they crept to 38,000 feet; the plane stalled and began dropping 10,000 feet a minute with its nose still up and the crew desperately trying to regain control.
Pitching left and right for a full minute, the alarm continued ringing through the cockpit while the youngest co-pilot struggled to bring the plane’s nose down and gain some speed. Though the engines had full power, the pilot struggled to find the right angle and the right amount of thrust for the plane to regain its lift. He failed and the jet remained in a stall.
At 10,000 feet, the second co-pilot announced their altitude. Recordings show they were then travelling 123 miles per hour. Despite all engines being fully operational and responding to crew commands, the plane never came out of its stall.
The captain returned to the cockpit one minute and 30 seconds from when the auto-pilot disengaged and never once touched the controls. Of the two co-pilots age 32 and 37, Bloomberg reports the younger man had control from the moment auto-pilot disengaged.
The investigation will continue and findings released as they unfold.
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