May 16, 2011
Data Recovered From Air France Flight Recorders By NICOLA CLARK
PARIS — French accident investigators said Monday that they had succeeded in downloading all of the flight data and cockpit conversations from the so-called black boxes of an Air France jet that crashed two years ago in the Atlantic Ocean — a critical breakthrough that could finally resolve the mystery behind why the plane went down. Investigators at the French Bureau of Investigations and Analyses spent a full day painstakingly removing, drying and testing the circuits of the flash memory chips inside the flight recorders, which arrived Thursday at the agency’s headquarters in Le Bourget, near Paris. The data and the voice recordings were then successfully downloaded over the weekend and transferred onto a secure computer server. Copies were made and provided to the French judicial police, who are conducting a separate criminal inquiry into the crash. The plane’s flight data recorder tracks roughly 1,300 different statistics, including the plane’s position, speed, altitude and direction when it began to experience difficulties. Investigators plan to synchronize the data with the voice recorder, which includes the final two hours of the pilots’ conversations and other cockpit sounds, including any alarms that would have sounded as its flight systems failed. In a statement, investigators said they would spend the next several weeks conducting a detailed analysis of the black box recordings in order to assemble a fuller narrative of what happened in the flight’s final moments. An interim report on their findings was expected to be published during the summer, the agency said. All 228 passengers and crew members were killed when Flight 447 went down on June 1, 2009, in a heavy high-altitude thunderstorm en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro. Decrypting the data on the recorders of the plane, an Airbus A330-200, gained new urgency after the decision in March by a French judge to place both Airbus and Air France under formal investigation on accusations of involuntary manslaughter in the case. Under French law, being placed under formal investigation is one step short of criminal charges but could lead to a trial. So far, the main source of information about what happened has been messages sent automatically from the plane, which indicated a malfunction of its airspeed sensors.
At a briefing last week, Jean-Paul Troadec, the head of the investigations bureau, said a salvage boat had successfully raised dozens of pieces of the plane, including its engines, most of the cockpit and several onboard computers. “We have all of the pieces that we wanted,” Mr. Troadec said. Still missing so far from the trove of debris, however, are the three airspeed sensors — known as Pitot tubes — that are believed to have failed. But Mr. Troadec said he did not believe physical inspection of the sensors would yield critical new information. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a French government minister who oversees transportation issues, expressed her “great satisfaction” Monday that investigators would be able to read and analyze the black box recordings. “This proves we were right to devote such an effort to shed light on this accident.” Air France, Airbus and the French government spent more than $30 million in four attempts to locate and retrieve the wreckage of Flight 447. In an effort to demonstrate the transparency of the investigation, investigators said Monday that the extraction of the data from the recorders was filmed and recorded in its entirety and conducted in the presence of investigators from four other countries — Germany, the United States, Britain and Brazil. The French police were expected to determine later this week whether traces of DNA could be recovered from the bodies of two crash victims found this month in the wreckage two and a half miles below the surface. Underwater cameras have located the remains of about 50 people amid the debris. Jean Quintard, a deputy prosecutor, said last week that it was unlikely that all of those bodies could be raised. Based on the condition and position of each body, police specialists would be forced to determine the possibility of recovering each corpse on a case-by-case basis, he said. It remains unclear whether a definitive identification of all the recovered remains will be possible. Forensics experts said that, after being immersed in salt water for two years, most traces of DNA would have been leached away. The best hope for identification would come from the marrow of larger bones from a victim’s leg or pelvis. “What remains of any DNA would be in the center of the bone,” said François Daoust, head of the forensic institute of the French national police agency. “But this is the first time sampling has been attempted under such conditions.”
Published on May 15, 2011
Published on May 15, 2011
French accident investigators said Monday that they had succeeded in downloading all of the flight data and cockpit conversations from the s...