Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Loss of Air France 447

Unfortunately, on the night of June 1st, an Air France Airbus A330, flying as flight 447 from Rio de Janerio, Brazil to Paris, France, disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean while flying at 35,000 feet through the intertropical convergence zone, in an area of known thunderstorm activity.

Crash debris was found yesterday and today on the ocean's surface, but experts say the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder might very well be difficult to retrieve, because of the oceans' extreme depth and mountainous floor. No survivors have been found, and all 228 souls on board are presumed dead.

I would like to express my sympathy to the family and friends of the victims, and to Air France employees. Another airline tragedy has befallen us, and it is my hope and prayer that surely something positive will come about from the investigation. Knowledge will be gained, and hopefully the lessons learned will be applied to future high altitude jet operations worldwide.

For more information regarding this accident, see Aviation Herald for detailed information and Tim Vasquez' website for a very detailed meteorological analysis of the weather conditions present where and when Air France 447 was lost.

I'm not a meteorologist, but I do have some weather knowledge. Tim Vasquez's basic theory is that the flight was doomed by being exposed to severe turbulence. He postulates that the aircraft might have been flying in moderate turbulence in cirrus clouds leftover from a previous thunderstorm, which wouldn't be very harmful by itself. He thinks that a rapidly growing 'cold updraft tower' from a developing thunderstorm below the aircraft's altitude might have grown upwards into the airliner's position just as it was flying past. Such a fast growing cumilonimbus cloud, with a rate of at least 6,000 feet per minute or more, would surely deliver severe turbulence to an airframe. According to Tim, thunderstorms in the intertropical convergence zone can have these strong, narrow updrafts at high altitudes, which are difficult for weather radar even modern jets have to portray accurately without expert knowledge and operation. Translated, that means that a strong, high altitude updraft from an intertropical convergence zone thunderstorm which is maturing cannot yet have enough moisture inside it to be typically portrayed on a weather radar as a storm signature.

In any case, the loss of Air France 447 is tragic, and another reminder of the fragility that life in flight can be, and of the great responsibility given to all pilots by their entrusting passengers.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Fly safe honey. Love you.