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Air France Flight 447 Vanishes Over Atlantic Ocean

If you know me, you probably know how plane flights freak me out in a bad way. I was not always afraid of flying, but after some odd events involving planes, I now have a mild phobia. I say ‘mild’ because I can still manage to ride on a plane. It’s people like John Madden have a true phobia of planes and flying.

Air France Flight AF 447 Vanishes Over Atlantic Ocean
Air France Flight AF 447 Vanishes Over Atlantic Ocean

I don’t fly very often. Maybe 3-4 times per year. And today I found myself at the airport for a business trip, when all of the sudden a breaking news story appears on the TV at the airport. Air France Flight AF 447 has vanished over the Atlantic Ocean. My nuckles went white, and my heart rate jumped. I was horrified and terrified for those people. Though the search continues, no one is really sure what happened. Air France said the plane was likely struck by lighting (here). Apparently, planes are often struck by lightning, but it is very unusual for a plane to be brought down by a storm. However improbable, it looks like this plane was brought down by a storm. And imagining a plane falling out of the sky and crashing into water is terrifying to me. I can only pray that those people did not suffer.

After doing some research on the event, here are some of the facts that we do know:

  • The flight took off from Rio de Janeiro at 7:30pm local time.
  • The last verbal communication with air traffic control was at at 10:33pm local time.
  • At that time of the last verbal messagem the flight was at 35,000 feet and traveling at 520 miles per hour.
  • The last communication from Flight AF 447 came at 11:14pm by a series of automatic messages indicating it had suffered an electrical-system malfunction.
  • Flight AF 447 was scheduled to arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport at 11:10am local time.
  • The Air France Airbus A330-200 was carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members.
  • The Airbus A330 sent out several automated signals that its electrical systems had malfuntioned.
  • There was no word from the pilots that the plane was in trouble or in a crisis. No may day message at all.
  • The plane had flown for 4 hours before it hit storms and turbulence.
  • 15 minutes after hitting the storm, the first automated signals were sent regarding the electrical systems malfunctioning.
  • The automated messages were sent to Air France’s maintenance system, but they were not checked for hours – not until Flight 447 failed to radio in on time with air traffic controllers.
  • The plane’s black box recorded may never be found, as it is presumably at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Air France said the plane, which was powered with General Electric engines, went into service in April 2005.
  • The plane last underwent maintenance in a hangar in April this year.

According to this news article (here):

Brazilian officials said the plane disappeared over the Atlantic somewhere between a point 186 miles northeast of their coastal city Natal and the Cape Verde islands off Africa. The area is known as the “horse latitudes,” where the tropics of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres mix, sometimes creating violent and unpredictable thunderstorms that can rise to 55,000 feet, higher than commercial jetliners can go.

Even though most of the facts support the theory that the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, many experts are wondering how a plane that is built to withstand storms with a very experienced pilot, who has clocked over 11,000 flying hours, could be taken down by a storm. Air France chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said, “A completely unexpected situation occurred on board the aircraft. Lightning alone is not enough to explain the loss of this plane, and turbulence alone is not enough. It is always a combination of factors.” That statement completely freaks me out.

What happened up there? This was a modern plane, built to withstand heavy storms and violent turbulence. The flight crew was very experienced. There was no distress signal. Lightning strikes planes about once a year, but the electricity typically travels along the plane’s exterior. Passengers are not affected by this occurrence. One AP report claimed that cabin pressure was lost. Maybe an electrical problem shut off the air compressors on the plane. The theories continue, but something happened up there. And if the black box is sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, we may never know what caused this horrific tragedy.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those lost in this tragic event.