June 2009, 228 passengers and crewmembers were aboard Air France Flight 447 when it disappeared over the Atlantic. Flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on what was expected to be an 11-hour flight, the plane seemed to have fallen from the sky. Five days later wreckage was found (the tail section, about 1000 other pieces, as well as 50 bodies); the black boxes are still missing. Was it an accident or deliberate terrorist act?
In an attempt to discover what caused this tragedy, Nova assembled an independent team of investigators including piilots, a weather expert, a structural engineer, and an air accident expert. Working from “extensive photographic evidence,” they began their quest to find answers to the riddle that was the fate of Flight 447.
Relying on known facts and new scientific analysis to find the truth behind the crash, the investigation began with a study of the transcripts of pilot communication with air traffic control. Nothing extraordinary was found. Three hours into the flight, the plane was where it should have been; one minute later air traffic control was unable to reach the pilots, which was not considered a cause for alarm, since it wasn’t at all unusual.
Flight 447 disappeared from radar screens, but — again — there was no cause for alarm, since planes over the mid-Atlantic are “on their own,” outside the range of land-based radar.
Damage to the nosecone, tail, and cargo area floor indicated that the plane hit the water flat, in one piece. It did not explode, but fell from the air. The investigative team studied details of the weather and discovered there had been a 250-mile-wide thunderstorm. Perhaps a lightning strike caused the crash? Unlikely–it is estimated that every plane is hit by lightning once a year; the last lightning-induced crash was in the late 1960s, and planes are designed to withstand lightning strikes.
Pilot error was considered unlikely because of the advanced computer/electronics system of the plane. So what did happen to Flight 447?
It is believed that a small storm camouflaged the larger storm, and that the pilots did not know of its existence until they were in it. Investigators theorized various scenarios that would account for the loss of the plane. They discovered there had been 24 critical faults in little more than four minutes (system failures, beginning with the loss of autopilot) as reported by the computer to the airport in Paris.
With this knowledge, the investigators formulated a theory based on similar situations that had arisen during other flights, tests in flight simulators, and pilot training and knowledge.
Seasoned flyers may find The Crash of Flight 447 interesting, even spellbinding as I did; those who aren’t thrilled with flying or have a fear of flying may find it nerve-wracking. Learning how easily a system can be undone is not for the timid.
Crash of Flight 447 was originally scheduled to be shown on Nova October 25 but was bumped for a program on the Chilean mine rescue. It will be shown February 16, 2011; DVD release date: November 2, 2010.
Bottom Line: Would I buy Crash of Flight 447? Yes, it is chilling, yet riveting.