Recorders Outline Final Moments of AF447

The data confirm the Airbus 330 stalled, but the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) continued May 27 to caution that it has not yet determined why the aircraft crashed.

The French civil aviation investigation agency released a summary of data it has recovered from two recorders on board the Airbus A330-203 that crashed June 1, 2009, off the Brazilian coast en route to Paris as Air France Flight 447. The wreckage finally was located last month, and two recorders were found and returned to France.

The summary translated into English includes airspeed and angle of attack data confirming the plane stalled, but the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) continued May 27 to caution that it has not yet determined why the aircraft crashed, killing all 228 people on board. The autopilot disengaged 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 5 seconds into the flight, and the airplane then climbed to 38,000 feet from 35,000, "the stall warning was triggered and the airplane stalled," the summary states. It says the plane remained stalled during its descent, which lasted 3 minutes, 30 seconds, adding, "the engines were operating and always responded to crew commands." The final recorded values were a pitch attitude of 16.2 degrees nose-up, a roll angle of 5.3 degrees left, and a vertical speed of -10,912 feet per minute, it states.

Many news outlets posted reports early May 27 blaming the flight crew for failing to comprehensively respond to loss of airspeed amid a sequence of alarms; before it went down, the airplane was flown into a high-altitude thunderstorm that caused ice to block the pitot tubes in its three airspeed indicators, BEA has stated during the investigation.

"Faced with the regular disclosure of partial and often approximate information since 16 May, the BEA wished to publish [the summary] so as to inform the families of the victims and the public about the first facts established, based on analysis of the data from the flight recorders, which started on 14 May for the FDR and 15 May for the CVR," BEA's May 27 statement says. "This note describes in a factual manner the chain of events that led to the accident and presents newly established facts. The initial analyses will be developed in a further interim report that is scheduled to be published towards the end of July. Only after long and detailed investigative work will the causes of the accident be determined and safety recommendations issued, this being the main mission of the BEA. The latter will be included in the final report."

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