In June of 2009, Air France Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. It was soon revealed that the plane had crashed, killing all 228 people on board.
Now, thanks to the recent recovery of the Airbus’ black boxes at 13,000 beneath the Atlantic, investigators are finally beginning to piece together what brought the plane down.
At approximately 12:15 a.m., Air France 447, which was travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, stalled and tumbled through the sky for just over three minutes before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.
It was originally thought that the sensors on the plane’s wings were giving false airspeed readings as they began to ice over. The new data paints a slightly different picture.
Just over two hours into the flight, the two co-pilots met with the plane’s captain. They had hoped to climb above some approaching storm clouds, but concluded: “We’re in the cloud layer unfortunately and can’t climb for the moment because temperature is falling more slowly than forecast.”
The captain subsequently left the cockpit and the auto-pilot disengaged shortly thereafter. Next, the crew noticed that the plane’s speed sensors had failed. They then pointed the aircraft higher and a stall warning sounded “twice in a row.”
According to the BEA report (below), the co-pilots increased the angle of the climb, taking the Air France 447 from 35,000 feet to 37,500 feet. When the stall warning went off a third time they took her to 38,000 feet.
The plane then stalled and began falling at a rate of 10,000 feet per minute with its nose still up and the crew frantically attempting to regain control of it.
The alarm continued sounding in the cockpit while the youngest co-pilot tried to bring the plane’s nose down and gain some velocity. Even though the engines had full power, the pilot was unable to find the right angle and the proper amount of thrust for the plane to regain its lift.
At 10,000 feet, the second co-pilot proceeded to announce their altitude. They were not travelling at 123 miles per hour. Despite all engines being fully functional and responding to crew commands, the plane never pulled out of its stall.
The captain finally returned to the cockpit about a minute and a half from when the auto-pilot disengaged. He never once touched the controls. Of the two co-pilots, aged 32 and 37, the younger man had control of the plane from the moment auto-pilot disengaged.
The investigation will continue and findings released as they unfold. You can view the full report from the BEA below.