No hope of air crash survivors

Last communication from French flight indicates electrical system malfunction

The sighted wreckage is “very little material in relation to the size” of the Air France plane, Brazilian air force spokesman Jorge Amaral said. There was little hope that any of the 228 people on board would be found alive, and Amaral said that there was no sign of life amid the debris.
Air France Flight 447 encountered bad weather and turbulence about four hours after takeoff from Rio, and the company said an automated warning system on the 4-year-old plane beamed out a message about electrical problems 15 minutes later. The signals were not sent as distress calls, and they were not read for hours, until air traffic controllers realised that the plane’s crew had not radioed in on schedule.
As is common with transoceanic flights, the plane was too far out over the sea to be tracked on land-based radar from Brazil or Senegal. Whether its location was captured by satellite or other planes’ radar was not immediately known.
The flight took off from Rio de Janeiro at 7:30 pm local time, and its last verbal communication with air traffic control was three hours later, at 10:33, according to a statement from Brazil’s civil aviation agency. At that time, the flight was at 35,000 feet and travelling at 520 miles per hour.
The last communication from it came at 11:14 — a series of automatic messages indicating it had suffered an electrical system malfunction. The Associated Press reported that it also suffered a loss of cabin pressure.
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.

Fatal damage

Experts were at a loss to explain fatal damage from lightning or a tropical storm, both of which jetliners face routinely, despite efforts to avoid them — as much out of concern for passengers’ nerves as for the planes’ safety.
Pilots are trained to go over or around thunderstorms rather than through them. Brigitte Barrand, an Air France spokeswoman, said the highly experienced pilot, a 58-year-old Frenchman, had clocked 11,000 flying hours, including 1,100 hours on Airbus 330 jets.
The two co-pilots, also French, were 37 and 32 years old, and both had thousands of flight hours in Airbus A330s, the company said.
Julien Gourguechon, who has been an Air France pilot for a decade, said: “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.”
Jetliners are typically hit by lightning at least once a year. But the strike normally travels across the plane’s aluminum skin and out the tail or a wingtip. Passengers are insulated in the nonconductive and vital equipment is shielded.
A loss of cabin pressure could suggest a break in the fuselage, but planes are built to withstand buffeting from a storm’s updrafts and downdrafts. It could also be a consequence of an electrical failure, if the plane’s air compressors stop working.
Large hailstones created by thunderstorms have been known to break windshields, though pilots would be likely to report something like that.

32 nationalities aboard jet

Air France identified 32 nationalities among the 216 passengers on board Air France 447, DPA reports from Buenos Aires.
Passengers included 61 French, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans, nine Italians, nine Chinese, six Swiss, five Lebanese, five Britons, four Hungarians, three Slovakians, three Irish, three Norwegians; two each from Spain, US, Morocco, Poland; one each from South Africa, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Gambia, Iceland, Netherlands, Philippines, Rumania, Russia, Sweden, Turkey.
Prince Pedro Luis de Orleans e Braganca, 26, a member of Brazil’s non-reigning royal family was also travelling on the ill-fated plane.

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