American Morning

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June 3rd, 2009
09:26 AM ET

Is recovering Flight 447 possible?

Today, an armada of ships is converging on an area about 400 miles northeast of the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. Some are carrying submersibles that can work miles underwater, all to start piecing together the disaster of Air France Flight 447, which disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean.

One expert said it could be the hardest recovery since the search to find the Titanic, which took decades. Underwater recovery expert John Perry Fish spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.

John Roberts: What will searchers be looking for at this point in their operation? And what kind of topography of the ocean floor are they going to be searching in?

John Perry Fish: The searchers are going to be looking for a very important piece of equipment called a digital flight data recorder… These record many, many parameters of the flight, the aircraft, its attitude, even the amount of force that one of the pilots might put on a pedal. And it’s very important to find these in order to find out what happened to the flight. Attached to each of these data recorders is what we call a “pinger.”

It puts out an acoustic pulse once a second for 30 days as soon as it's submerged in the water and these contacts are joined by electrical forces. So it's important to find these. And they'll be looking for these in an area that's fairly deep, as deep as a couple of miles and also part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is a mountainous area that runs all the way from Iceland down into the South Atlantic.

Roberts: Some people described it as trying to find a flight data recorder in the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon.

Fish: That would be right. These are very small instruments and sonar used to image the topography may not be able to see that. But the “pinger” that is attached to it might be the key to finding it.

Roberts: How will they look for the “pinger?” The Navy is flying one of the Orion P-3 surveilance planes over the area. They’ve got some submersibles in the water. Will they all have their ears tuned to the frequency of this transponder?

Fish: The aircraft won't, but anything that’s submerged underwater that could sense the acoustic pulse, they will have receivers that are tuned to the frequency of this “pinger.”

Roberts: You're an expert in side-scan sonar… That's the way they located John F. Kennedy's plane off of the coast of Martha's Vineyard and the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 was found off of the coast of Long Island. In the type of ocean bottom you're talking about, you're an expert in this particular field, is side-scan sonar very effective?

Fish: Well, it's difficult if there's a lot of geology in the area. But side-scan is probably the best tool to try to locate the debris field of a downed aircraft.

Roberts: We talked a second ago about John F. Kennedy's plane, TWA 800, Egypt Air 900, they were all found in relatively shallow waters. The wreckage of the "Challenger" space shuttle was found in about a 1,000 feet of water. But we’re talking about a couple of miles of water here. 12,000 to 15,000 feet. Is it possible to find anything at that depth and with those crushing pressures too, which by some estimation would be 7,000 pounds per square inch?

Fish: That's correct. The pressure is high. But instruments are produced and designed and developed and we currently use them that work at those depths. One of the problems is getting the instrumentation down that deep requires long tote cables and it's very time consuming. So the fact that it’s deep water may increase the time it takes to locate the debris.

Roberts: The French authorities are pessimistic about finding anything. In 1987, the cockpit voice recorder from a South African Airways plane that went down off of the coast of Mauritius was found in 16,000 feet of water. If you were a betting man and based on your expertise, do you think they would find anything from the aircraft?

Fish: I do. I think it’s possible to find it. It's just going to take a little longer and require a greater effort working in this deep water. The South African Airways debris was located and Air India back in the '70s, I believe, was located in very deep water in the North Atlantic. So, I believe it can be found, it just will take a little longer.

Filed under: Technology • Transportation
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. peter nivling

    I have known John Fish very well since we were both 7 years old. He is a brilliant man and an expert in his field and his companies; American Underwater Search and Survey, LTD and Oceanstar Systems. He has shown me side scan sonar and it is fascinating.

    July 9, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  2. Matt

    Just like I said a month ago. Air France nor EDS wants those black boxes found. We have found Boeing black boxes in deeper water, but Airbus knows of a flaw in the aircraft and there for they will NEVER allow those black boxes to be found and if they are, nothing will be recoverable.


    July 1, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  3. jack

    What is the transmitting range of a flight data recorder underwater locater beacon?

    June 7, 2009 at 5:56 am |
  4. Britne Peterson

    Hey "LOST" fans.......Sounds like a fictional story coming to life...This all seems so wierd.....Flashing white light, plane no where to be found...I really hope they are able to use all of the best "deep sea" technology to locate the wreck. I feel we need more optimism in handling this situation. The family of these passengers deserve to know what happend...And yes, i agree, we need to have better communication with planes. All of the information needs to be going to computers on ground at all times........

    June 4, 2009 at 12:23 pm |
  5. Mark H

    First, the location of the Air France flight is and was known, minute by minute in real-time. The exact location of the crash is and was also known. It just took some hours to get this data declassified and cleaned up for commercial use. The exact information is also on a need to know basis.

    Spotting an oil drum is nothing strange. Oil drums are on commercial aircraft in the cargo hold. Example: Oil drums from Shell and Petrobras are flown to and from Formula One venues. This one, if Petrobras, could have been on its way to Istanbul, Turkey.

    Sure they will find, if not already, the pinging DFDR, just remember that it is sonar and the DFDR is most likely in mountainess terrain under water. You must be over-head to pinpoint the location. From the side you would just get reflections which can be interpreted in direction of the original signal, that too takes time. The only thing a submarine in the area would do, is get out of there. They are not at such a location to cruse for hamburger joints. The place will be swarming with unwanted visitors soon, so the operative words are: “collect as much data as possible, get out and maybe come back later to observe”.

    The above-mentioned devices, which are good ideas, are available, such as floating devices but at present are only installed on two aircrafts that are currently parked in the Middle East region.

    These devices are far too expensive for commercial use and then they operative words are: “not commercially viable”. The harsh reality is that 228 people flying on a commercial aircraft are not important enough, then the life of one man and his family.

    Don’t forget that the location is in open sea and a long way from any land. Just try and swim to that location, then you will some idea of how vast this area is. Oh, don’t forget the huge waves in this area, it is just the area where most of the tropical storms like Katrina form and come from! From an aircraft it doesn’t seem like much, wait until you have to try and swim in it!

    June 4, 2009 at 7:35 am |
  6. DCM5150

    "which has operated at a loss for more than 20 years, and is in and out of bankruptcy, because of the high demand for lower and lower fares."

    Then the airlines should change their business model. Ther are a few that actually make money. Just because consumers want lower fares doesn't mean the airlines have to comply. I would like free tickets. You need to price flights in such a way that you can make a profit. I know its a challenging concept – if you lose money on every flight, you can't make it up with morevolume. Tricky business concept.

    June 3, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  7. drow

    people kvetch if they have to pay for PEANUTS and a COKE on their flight. what chance does a GPS unit and all the (considerable) infrastructure to collect and coordinate that information, in real-time, from an entire fleet of aircraft, have?

    June 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  8. Guss

    Lets just assume that the flight recorder is cannot be retreived. We know the plane went down supposedly by a lighting strike that might have short circuited the critical systems on board. (could also have shortcircuited the Data Flight Recorder as well, which is quite probable, thus it would be quite a disappointment if all effort were to retreive the black/orange box only to find out the data is corrupt.)

    Before I pose my next comment, I would like ot ask if anyone knowes whether or not the data recorder is reset after each flight, and if so whether or not the data is reviewed after every successful landing.

    I am sure the aviation experts have looked at all possiblities to try and identify the reason why the plane went down, but let me just ask a few questions.

    1. Maybe the maintenance logs of the aircraft of the last 3 PM's checks might give us a clue. (I am sure a computer diagnostic is made during maintenance ) I wonder if how far back these logs are kept. So that is also a place to look into.

    2. The previous filghts of the aircraft was flown by aother crew, maybe the crew of the last 10 flights shouled be throughly questioned. who knows also maybe some passangers heard some sort of cracking sound, sensed an abnormal smell.

    3. Did any of the passenger called their loved ones after take off. (i hope not as mobile transmission can interfere with the instrumentation. (that would be ironic though if the airbus is really that sensitive)

    4. If I were airbus would start on working on a simulation programme that would introduce lighting strikes on the body and see where the damage can be that is so critical to cause the plane to lose control.

    5. not ruling out any terroist involvement rio airport should be going thruu all the cameras to look for abnormal activities. Do not mistake me I am not saying a terriosit was on board but maybe some one summguled an timed electromagnic device on the plane.

    6. I am not sure at what depth dophin can go to, but hey, I've watched Flipper when i was young, where are his grandchildren.

    And finally lets all pray to the lost lifes and hope that Airbus can figure this mess out and reassure us once more that aviation is still the safest way to go.

    June 3, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
  9. David

    Wow, not too many engineers or economists out there in CNN reader land, are there?

    June 3, 2009 at 2:35 pm |
  10. Bill

    Great idea! That way we won't know what happened and the problem won't get fixed for other planes! You're smart!

    June 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  11. Tom H

    We know that the "trouble" data was being sent for four minutes. We also know that the plane was at 35,000 feet when that signal started telling them about electrical trouble and pressure loss. This means the plane descended at an average of 8,750 feet per minute. That's as fast as a sky diver. Most of us have never descended at more than 500 feet per minute in a commercial plane. This would indicate a catastrophic break up at altitude. The 3 mile debris field helps support this. My thoughts are with the families in these difficult times.

    June 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  12. Garry

    This recorder will be found, this will just take time & patience ...I'm viewing the Ocean floor in this area & were loking at near 4.5 – 5.7 miles at the deepest will take time but we will find these instruments.
    Mark my word.

    June 3, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  13. Brian

    Nobody seems to have picked up on all the reasons continuous data transmission is not used. Yes, as noted, there is a lot of data that radio communications would be hard-pressed to keep up with. The bigger issue, quite frankly is that, with rare exception, the data of interest is that which is captured in the last few minutes. Many airplanes fly for years and never have have an incident where the FDR data needs to be examined – so why transmit, capture and store all that data (even briefly) if it is not needed? And who would pay for the radio network and storage costs anyway? And, of course, there is always the possibility communications would be lost and the most critical data wouldn't be there anyway.

    FDRs are continuously capturing current data and deleting old data, thereby storing the data most relevant to an investigation.

    June 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  14. kevin

    howdy howdy. ah were in a recession. how about we just recover the bodies and be done with it. Why do we always have to discover exactly what was going on . Bomb? hello, no, its already been said that they radioed back and said they were having trouble. So yeah, lets make this a recession recovery, get the bodies and get it over with. Please brazil show them how its done. Lets not make a big song and dance over this

    June 3, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
  15. dealer

    Joe said: "1. They don’t want to find the plane because it could leave an impression that Airbus aircraft are not as well built as Boeing. The A330 could get the same rep the DC-10 had back in the mid to late 70’s when the FAA grounded the entire fleet world wide."

    EXACTLY!!!! either i'm losing something in translation cuz i'm really not sensing any urgency on the france part to do anything and everything to recover the plane. this whole time it's been brazil.

    maybe i'm freaking out cuz i fly a lot more than normal people and i fly jet blue often (they only have airbus)...but there's definitely some urgency missing from this tragedy...

    June 3, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  16. Yes1fan

    The flight data recorders should be duplicated, with redundant data – one should float, one should sink to mark the most likely position.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  17. Vinod J

    What has stumped me, is why they found a floating oil drum? Has that stumped anyone else? I did not think that commercial aircraft actually carried oil drums in the cargo hold?

    I am thinking that floating oil drum is pure coincidence (from a ship) or is it possible that the plane actually hit a ship?

    June 3, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  18. Jeanine

    How about trying to recover the people. I am sure some familes would like to bury their loved ones.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  19. Josh

    Mike C. is right. In addition, we live in an age where increasing numbers of countries are acquiring the technology necessary to attack satellites.

    Reinventing ATC infrastructure to rely primarily on GPS satellites for all of our civilian and military air traffic control needs may not be ideal from a security or cost/benefit standpoint.

    Deepest condolences go out to the families and friends affected by this. Try not to be offended at people here debating the situation in ways that must sound dryly factual and unfeeling. I can only speak for myself, but it's a sign of care, concern, and hope that we can soon make sense out of a situation that seemingly could have struck any of us that travel by air.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  20. Lisa

    I would assume that Dr. Ballard would be called in with the Challenger Deep to work on this recovery. He's affiliated with Mystic Aquarium's Institute for Exploration and has worked on the Titanic shipwreck, as well as many other underwater archeological explorations. The Challenger Deep has even been used in connection with exploration and mapping of the Marianas Trench.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:41 pm |
  21. RyanBV

    Placing GPS transponders on aircraft will only make it worth while if there is the possibility of communication via the satelites. Satelites still operate on a line of sight basis, therefore, would it not still be impossible to pick up the current location of the aircraft. Besides, adding more electrical equipment to a closed circuit system, even with redundancies and backup power supply, would not work in a catastrophic event that seems to have caused massive electrical malfunctions. The world may have become smaller, but the oceans still are huge, and they move constantly.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:41 pm |
  22. jay

    Looking forward to the French spin-off version of Lost.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  23. John D

    Its not about technology but rather the funding to develop and implement it. Hindsight is always 20/20 however when the traveling public is asked to fund these advances be by way of tax dollars or ticket prices the resounding sentiment is no. Historically the cost of safety initiatives whether it be on an airplane, car or inside a building have been resisted by the public. If everyone wants advanced safety technology they need express this to their elected officials, the aircraft manufacturers and airlines and in the same breath agree to share the cost. Until then an already beleagured aviation industry simply doesnt have the funding.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:38 pm |
  24. Alan

    Things alwasy seem easy to the uninformed observer (of which I am one). It does seem odd that we can attach devices to penguins, seals, whales, and turtles to track or locate them, yet we cannot do the same for something as critically important as the DFDR. If we can find a whale in the middle of nowhere, couldn't we also locate a floating DFDR? Does each whale tracking device cost billions of dollars?

    June 3, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  25. CTP

    There is a flight data recorder that ejects from the plane and then floats. The product is called a Deployable Incident Flight Recorder, made by DRS Technologies. It has been on military aircraft for years. I do not know why that hasn't been introduced onto commerical platforms yet? But if I had to guess I would say the Airlines do not want to spend the money to update their planes.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:36 pm |
  26. Josh

    I could be wrong but if submarine sinks, doesnt it deploy a floating beacon that is meant to be picked and used to determine the last position of the sub?

    So if I vehicle designed to go underwater sinks, and it uses a floating device to help pin points its location in the event of an accident. Why are planes using a device that is designed to SINK in the case of an disaster?

    Even with a pinger, I have to agree with other people posting here. A floating buoy would be easier, even if it is several hundred miles away from the crash site.

    Just my thoughts though.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  27. Mark D

    Crossing flights are not monitored. Aircraft are slotted into routes using timed spacing. The distances are simply to far for high speed transmitters on aircraft to reach all the way to land based antenna. Communication is done with technology developed in the forties.

    These airplanes are largely alone out there. That's just the way it is.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  28. Rafael Pina

    Why can't the data from a submerged flight data recorder be retrieved or transferred via a Radio Frequency signal, without the need to retrieve the actual recorder from the wreckage?

    Why can't the flight data recorders relay the recorded information to servers on the ground in real time? The information from the FDR would then be stored and could be retrieved from the servers if needed.

    I would assume that with today's technology this things would be possible. Why hasn't someone with ties to the Air Industry thought of this.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  29. William H.

    I too find it absolutely stunning that the plane's location was not recorded and tracked with a GPS instrument. I understand about the costs of rebuilding the entire air control infrastructure to comply with a GPS network, but surely the basic data sent back to each airline's control center (as was the case with Air France) could include a GPS coordinate with each data transmission. The extra locational data sent back is miniscule, and surely modern aircraft are equiped with a simple GPS device. If it is affordable in cars, surely it can be used in an airliner. This would help immeasurably in quickly locating the wreckage.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  30. Twons

    So if the aircraft was able to send some final detail of failures on the failure, wouldn't it also be capable of sending the craft's current altitude, speed & coordinates? Seems as though this would be a very small amount of data to deliver and would be immensely valuable in determining the geographical location of the aircraft.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:17 pm |
  31. Eugene Tradd

    Mark, Bob Ballard is not at Woods Hole anymore. He is works for the URI Grad School of Oceanography. The teams he led at WHOI are still operating. Both Alvin and Jason II are involved in extensive research all over the world and have very busy schedules. I do agree with you that this recovery would be important enough to pull them away from their research duties and us them to bring up whatever they can to enable a study to understand what may have caused this terrible disaster and possibly prevent such a thing in the future.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  32. Weston

    Brazil has the most modern Air Force in all Latin America, and they are the nearest ones to start the work of recovering. But any kind of help from any nation, including US, could be very helpful.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  33. Aaron

    All – Don't forget that GPS tells *you* where you are. Telling *other* people where you are is a much more complicated proposition. For example, the Onstar system uses the cell network to relay that information back to the call center. Obviously, the cell network doesn't extend to the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  34. Steve Calabrese

    Actually, this particular Airbus was equipped with an advanced monitoring system that constantly transmitted diagnostic information back to its base – but no device that transmits information will ever be able to replace black boxes, which are designed to function with a minimum of support from the aircraft. Everything can be going to pieces in a way that would knock out communications and the black box will still be recording.

    In this case, they knew something was dramatically wrong with the place as right before the crash the diagnostic system actuctuy started transmitting tremendous amounts of data regarding failures of multiple flight systems. This data was interpreted to mean that a catastrophic series of failures had overtaken the aircraft, and the streaming data will be a goldmine to accident investigators. Still, they'll need the black boxes (actually they're orange) to get a better picture, and ideally some of the aircraft to test for bomb residue, etc.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  35. dealer

    i find the "comments", more like suggestions funny. it's like trying to cure cancer on a blog. before posting just think about this do you think you are smarter than the smartest people in the world? cuz that's what it took to design those black boxes. they thought of everything, every scenerio possible and they did a "cost"/benefit analysis and the smartest minds in the world for 30 or so years went with the current black box. yes, they had internet back then. i know i'm offending some of you but c'mon. we're not going to create something on a blog. trust me.

    the question to ask, i believe is, would a boeing have gone down like this? before you answer please research the differences between a boeing and airbus. and it shouldn't be hard.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  36. Patricia

    Not to be morbid, but are they planning to remove the bodies from the aircraft or let them remain there as their final resting place?

    June 3, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  37. Clark

    The current world air traffic system is basically 1980s technology. It would take a decade to upgrade the system, cost 100s of billions of dollars or more worldwide, and involve 100s of countries governments appropriating can see the scope of the difficulties. Flights are frequently out of radio range on trans-oceanic flights for relatively long periods of time. The GPS solution has been propsed for years, but the cost per aircraft is too high for the airline industry...which has operated at a loss for more than 20 years, and is in and out of bankruptcy, because of the high demand for lower and lower fares. For all the air traffic upgrades and safety improvements everyone wants, no one is willing to pay 2 or 3 times the current fares to bring this change it just doesn't get done.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  38. David

    I was the system architect on an initiative to put cellular enabled systems on Amtrak trains for purposes of keeping passenger manifests up to date real-time. There are numerous issues involved in getting data off of moving vehicles.

    1) Doppler effect
    2) Radio frequency
    3) Availability and distance of receiving stations (ground and or satellite)
    4) Antenna size/type

    On the Acela test runs (up to 150MPH), significant degradation of bandwidth was encountered. In order to optimize limited bandwidth, significant effort was put into reducing the data to deltas, packetizing data and providing efficient error detection/correction, and also compression scheme optimization was performed; to the point that it took significant processor powere and time to prepare the data for transmission and to transmit it.

    On a trans-oceanic flight at 500+ mph, It would be difficult to get much data at all off the plane in real time, let alone instrumentation data (telemetry)

    June 3, 2009 at 11:41 am |
  39. Brian

    Matt, I'm sure at this point a US attack sub is on its way to the crash site, but our navy is hush, hush about it.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  40. Joe

    1. They don't want to find the plane because it could leave an impression that Airbus aircraft are not as well built as Boeing. The A330 could get the same rep the DC-10 had back in the mid to late 70's when the FAA grounded the entire fleet world wide.
    2. They don't want to find the plane becuase of the cost entailed in bringing up the plane.
    3. They don't want to find the plane because Air France and Airbus (or should I say the French Government) have too much at stake in this accident.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  41. John

    It might be a reasonable assumption that military submarines of some nations would have been operating in the mid-atlantic area. While their locations would be classified, the sensitivity of the listening gear onboard probably far exceeds anything that civilians posess, and would be capable of detecting the sonar pinger on the FDR from great distances. Its likely they will assist in the search in a behind-the-scenes manner. With crews and software trained to pick out the slightest unusual sounds in the ocean they will likely locate the pinger in a short time.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:33 am |
  42. Mike C.

    The air traffic control system is currently based on radar. GPS technology was not available when the current system was designed and implemented. Can a new system be created that takes advantage of GPS technology? Most certainly, but this would be a huge infrastructure investment requiring massive international cooperation. This is certainly within the realm of possibility (and likely in the planning stages) but as mentioned – it is a huge undertaking and will take a great deal of time, planning and investment to see fruition.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:29 am |
  43. Mark Irwin

    Why is everyone pontificating about this? For heaven's sakes, let's get Robert Ballard involved already. His Woods Hole team is more qualified than any other entity on the planet to find the wreckage of this plane. God rest their souls.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:29 am |
  44. Mike C.

    Samir –

    Satellites are not tracking cars on our streets. The satellites are merely beacons sending off signals at specific time periods, similar to a lighthouse. The GPS receivers in the cars on the streets track multiple satellite transmissions and are able to calculate the precise location of the car that they are in. They them compare this to an onboard database to determine what street the car is on. All of the data processing takes place at the receiving end of the system – the GPS unit. The satellites are on the transmission end of the system – placidly and dependably transmitting data for any user to receive,

    June 3, 2009 at 11:24 am |
  45. Matt

    I think they should get some U.S. attack subs out there to listen for the pingers and triangulate their positions before the batteries run out on them.

    Then an unmanned submersible can go in later and at least have an idea of where to look.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  46. Gene Brass

    Steven Nelson:

    Thanks for the information: if these devices are indeed designed deliberately to sink, then I assume the designers consider shallow-water scenarios the much more likely. Still, in the present case, wouldn't a floating FDR equiped with some sort of emergency locator or position indicating beacon be retrievable even if thousands of miles from the impact site?

    June 3, 2009 at 11:18 am |
  47. Ryan

    I find it absolutely shocking that in this day and age authorities only had an idea of where Air France Flight 447 went down, and it took hours for them to respond. GPS has been around for decades, I can't imagine why it would be so hard for an airline to have a global realtime picture of the precise location of all their flights? The excuse of flights being out of radar range is simply not acceptable. Does this mean that at any given time the hundreds of flights in the air over vast oceans are not monitored and nobody actually knows what is flying between the continents because there is no regional radar control? This is the 21st century!

    June 3, 2009 at 11:18 am |
  48. Derek L

    Jeremy; They don't do that because only a very tiny portion of accidents involve things that would be visible from that camera – and the numbers cover those rare situations as well as the remainder.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  49. Samir

    Even if the floating FDRs drift away from the crash site, can't they be easily spotted if they have a GPS type device attached – if every car on our streets is being continuously tracked by multiple satellites!!

    June 3, 2009 at 11:03 am |
  50. Dan F

    Air France reported that aircraft communicated failing systems for about four minutes. Why hasn't the company reported any more details about these communications? If these failures were so catastrophic as to cause the craft to crash, then doesn't it seem odd that the comunications continued for that long? The plane must have been in some sort of controlled descent during those four minutes, no? It would take less than one minute for an object to fall from 35,000 feet,

    June 3, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  51. Jeremy Fischer

    I don't understand why they don't simply install a camera on each plane on the tip of the vertical stabilizer, and have the black box record, say, the last 3 minutes or so of video. That way instead of trying to piece together what happened based solely on numbers, they could LOOK at the plane and just SEE which wing fell off, and then use the numbers to determine WHY. Surely THAT sort of implementation would not be too expensive. Hell, I know people who've done that to their CARS so they have proof in the event of an accident!

    June 3, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  52. Cliff

    There is an effort currently to convert the entire air traffic control infrastructure to GPS which presumably would make finding any plane, whether flying intact or in pieces three miles under water possible. That being possible provided that some sort of a homing device is installed on board the plane.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  53. Kibbe

    Q: Why are airlines still using on board flight data recorders?
    A: On board flight data and cockpit voice recorders record a vast amount information – too much to be sent in a continuous stream or transmission. As you have read, digital information was sent from the aircraft to AF's maintenance dept of several faults that did occur. This communication is mainly used to keep their maintenance departments appraised of the current mechanical situation so that they might be able to make timely repairs once reaching the destination.

    Q:Why isn’t that information sent to computers on the ground, at least as a redundant system?
    A: Information is sent, but mainly just the highlights of the current situation rather than the detailed information that is stored in the DFDR.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  54. Eugene Tradd

    As far as recovery goes, there are vehicles such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutes (WHOI) ROV Jason (of Titanic fame) that could be used to recover the black boxes after locating them with side-scan sonar. WHOI is currently testing a new "Hybrid" vehicle, Nereus, that is capable of reaching the deepest oceans of the world at approximately 11,000 meters, See the WHOI website for more info.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:44 am |
  55. Ernest

    as to the Flight data recorders, they should be floatable, secondly they should have some sort of ejctable capability as well to make recovery easier, no?
    I am sure that the current situation could be improved to the above mentioned ideas...thank you....

    June 3, 2009 at 10:41 am |
  56. Bob

    I had the same thoughts regarding the data transmission. It would be possible to send a data stream when there is a problem identified by the on-board computers. Information sent to H.O. indicating that there was an electrical failure, why not send the planes parameters at the same time??

    June 3, 2009 at 10:40 am |
  57. Steven Nelson

    Gene Brass: making the FDR float would only make things worse as they could be carried hundreds or thousands of miles away from the original crash site by strong currents or winds. These FDRs were designed to sink and send out a ping signal.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:34 am |
  58. Jessica

    I would think, given the advancements in techonology, locating the wreckage should be much easier than in the past. If they could find a plane at 16,000 feet over 20 years ago (presumably without pingers and such)...I think its more than logical that they'll find this wreckage. Getting down in there, and retrieving the box – that's entirely different. Especially AFTER 30 days when the pinger signal stops. I would hope that more resources could be devoted early on, so that this doesnt last for months...which would only be more expensive than tossing every single possible resource at this now. This is a global iniative, that plane could have been any plane. There were so many people from so many nations...It's just heart wrenching to think of those people perishing like that.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:30 am |
  59. Brad

    I think it's unrealistic to assume that the aircraft's communications systems would remain operational in a catastrophic event. Anything occurring suddenly enough to take down a plane would probably result in the failure of systems across the aircraft. As I understand it, this type of aircraft does send intermittent signals in the event of systems failures notifying the ground of problems, but not detailed flight information.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:29 am |
  60. Technical Dude

    Continuous data transmission does indeed involve technical difficulties. It requires bandwidth and reliable reception, neither of which are in plentiful supply on a worldwide basis. Over the ocean, this also means that it requires satellites, in most cases.

    Many modern airliners do send information back to an operator base at regular and frequent intervals (such as once per minute), but not continuously. The advantages to continuous data transmission do not justify the costs and resources required to provide it. That's what black boxes are for.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  61. Gene Brass

    Or give them flotation capability?

    June 3, 2009 at 10:24 am |
  62. Mike Kopack


    It's a matter of bandwidth (it's a LOT of data being updated constantly, x # of planes in the air), and you're also talking about out over the ocean where you're pretty far away from any ground receiving stations...

    Is it possible? Yes, I'd think so, but not very cost effective. And if the problem is in the radio links, then it doesn't buy you anything.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:23 am |
  63. Jamie Ram

    Because there is no infrastructure that would be able to handle the amount of data that would be required.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:23 am |
  64. Wes Clarke

    As I understand it, modern aircraft are nearly always in communication with the ground. Why are airlines still using onboard flight data recorders? Why isn't that information sent to computers on the gound, at least as a redundant system.

    June 3, 2009 at 10:08 am |