AF 447 crash probe could take 'year and a half'

1st September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The hunt for the black boxes of the crashed Air France jetliner into the Atlantic resumes this autumn following two previous failed sweeps.

Paris – French investigators could take up to a year and a half to wrap up their probe of the mysterious crash of an Air France jetliner into the Atlantic that left 228 dead, the head of the inquiry said Monday.

Paul-Louis Arslanian, the director of the BEA air accident investigation agency, said the hunt for the Airbus A330's black boxes would resume in autumn and that other countries would be invited to take part in the search.

Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the ocean on 1 June and was ripped apart. Just before dropping off radar screens it had emitted a series of automatic warning signals indicating systems failures.

"For the moment, we can't explain the accident," Arslanian told journalists. "We still don't know what caused the AF447 accident."

A second BEA interim report will be ready within a few weeks but he said this would not nail down the cause of the crash and that families might have to wait "a year or a year and a half" for the conclusions.

Arslanian said the deep-sea hunt for the plane's black boxes would resume "in autumn" after two previous sweeps failed to find them, one of them seeking a locator signal and another using deep-sea exploration technology.

The third phase of the search will cost more than EUR 10 million, perhaps many times more, he said. Airbus had previously said it would contribute to the costs of the investigation.

The president of a group representing victims' families welcomed the decision to press ahead with a third attempt to find the black boxes, which contain vital information on the flight's final minutes.

"Airbus has said it was willing to put EUR 12 to 20 million on the table to continue the search for the black boxes. This is good news for the families," said Christophe Guillot-Noel.

"The company has a major interest in the search because the black boxes will establish whether or not Airbus has responsibility in the accident," he told AFP.

Some of the relatives of the crash victims have already begun to point the finger at the jet's air speed monitors, which they say were faulty and to blame for the deaths.

In particular, they have alleged that Airbus and Air France knew about longstanding concerns over the A330's Pitots but had failed to replace them.

Analysis of the error messages indicated a problem with the Airbus jet's "Pitot probes" – air speed monitors – but the BEA said in a 2 July interim report only that this was a "factor, not the cause" of the crash.

Pilots say it is extremely difficult to control a modern jet, particularly at high speed and altitude in tropical weather, when the plane's three Pitots are recording conflicting, false or absent air speed data.

Since the crash, both the European air safety agency and planemaker Airbus have advised airlines to replace the Pitot probes used on the doomed jet with a more reliable model made by a US firm.

All Air France pilots will also undergo a new flight simulator training to reproduce the rapid loss of data at high altitude which occurred on board the doomed flight, Erick Derivry of France's airline pilots' union told AFP.

Arslanian said his bureau was still awaiting detailed autopsy reports carried out by Brazilian authorities on the bodies recovered from the crash site, some 1,000 kilometres off Brazil's coast.

The crash of the passenger jet was the worst in Air France's 75-year history.

AFP / Expatica

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