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French Airliner Update

The BBC reports on the arrival of Brazilian naval vessels in the area: Air France jet debris recovered.

There is an extended oil slick from the aircraft’s fuel which argues against and explosion or fire, but the field of the slick and debris indicates that the aircraft broke up in the air, rather than crashing.

The structure of modern aircraft are designed to take levels of turbulence that can injure passengers in the body, even if they are strapped into their seats, so it is very rare for it to destroy an airframe. Consider that the Hurricane Hunter aircraft of the Air Force and NOAA regularly fly through hurricanes, including Category 5 monsters, and they are much older than this Airbus.

That said, I lost two of my best friends in the military to clear air turbulence over the Bering Sea. The RC-135 [military version of the Boeing 707] was shaken apart forty years ago in May.

1 comment

1 Bryan { 06.04.09 at 11:30 pm }

It is possible that rather than the turbulence caused by thunderstorms themselves, which can be seen on radar because of the precipitation, they were caught in the clear air turbulence that sometimes occurs between major clusters.

Aircraft tend to steer towards the clear areas between cells, but if the cells are powerful enough they will create a vortex in the those spaces. Looking at the satellite images there were very powerful cells moving through, and they were in the intertropical convergence zone where a lot of hurricanes are born.

The only way of finding an area of clear air turbulence [called a CAT box in aviation circles] is by having someone fly into it an reporting its location.

There were at least three other airliners in the same general area at the time, but they didn’t report anything beyond the thunderstorms that they could see. To really get a good understanding of what happened will require the flight data recorders, which is why the French have a pair of deep diving robot submarines on their way to the area.