Imagine this… you are sleeping on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean when out of nowhere, the plane just stalls. You and fellow passengers drop straight down for 3 1/2 minutes before hitting the water at 50 metres per second.
Apparently this is what happened onboard the doomed Air France Flight 447, flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009. The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting details from the flight’s black box:
“it lost speed and stalled while the main pilot was resting, the first evidence from black boxes has revealed. Air France flight 447’s junior pilot battled to save the Rio de Janeiro to Paris flight, as the second pilot tried to rouse the captain shortly after the plane had begun its fateful fall in a tropical storm.”
The Vancouver Sun had information on the pilot, 58-year-old Marc Dubois, and reported that he: “had clocked up 11,000 flying hours over his airline career, while his more junior counterparts had 6,500 and 2,900 hours respectively. It was standard procedure for the main pilot to take a rest during long-haul flights, a spokesman added.”
No one seems to know why the plane stalled in the first place Apparently, while Dubois slept, two copilots navigated away from an area of turbulence. A few minutes later, the plane slowed drastically, triggering a stall warning (a stall being the moment a plane stops flying and starts falling.)
Weirdly, the co-pilots began to steer the nose of the plane upwards, to 11,300 metres from 10,700. They reported getting no “valid indications of speed,” but the move still makes no sense. Behold, more from the Sun:
“The Airbus training manual for the aircraft states, in large red letters, that in the event of a stall warning, pilots should ‘apply nose down pitch control to reduce AOA [angle of attack]’. Instead, with the plane’s nose still pointed up about 15 degrees, the jet began falling at around 3,000 metres a minute, rolling alternately left and right. By the time, the 58-year-old chief pilot returned, the aircraft was in serious trouble: plunging at 3,000 metres a minute with its nose still pointing up 15 degrees and at too high an angle to the air to recapture lift over the wings.”
Soo… what exactly happened there? It’s such a ridiculous way to crash a plane that some are comparing it to hitting the brake instead of the gas while driving a car.
France’s accident investigation office, the Bureau d’enquetes et d’analyses (BEA), said it has not established a cause for the accident, and plans further analysis. A second report will be released in July.
For less woeful tales of trans-Atlantic travel, read the latest issue of the Carnet Atlantique.