14 Minutes Of Terror

Oh my gosh, what a nightmare

At 11 p.m. (10 p.m. EDT), pilot Marc Dubois sent a manual signal saying he was flying through an area of “CBs” — black, electrically charged cumulonimbus clouds that carry violent winds and lightning.
Satellite data show that the thunderheads — towering up to 50,000 feet — were sending 100 mph updrafts into the jet’s flight path.
“Such an updraft would lead to severe turbulence for any aircraft,” AccuWeather said.
“In addition, the storms were towering up to 50,000 feet and would have been producing lightning. The Air France plane would have encountered these stormy conditions, which could have resulted in either some structural failure or electrical failure.”
At 11:10 p.m., a cascade of horrific problems began.
Automatic messages relayed by the jetliner indicate the autopilot had disengaged, suggesting Dubois and his two co-pilots were trying to thread their way through the dangerous clouds manually.
A key computer system had switched to alternative power and controls needed to keep the plane stable had been damaged.
An alarm sounded, indicating the deterioration of flight systems.
At 11:13 p.m., more automatic messages reported the failure of systems to monitor air speed, altitude and direction. Control of the main flight computer and wing spoilers also failed.
The last automatic message, at 11:14 p.m., indicated complete electrical failure and a massive loss of cabin pressure — catastrophic events, indicating that the plane was breaking apart and plunging toward the ocean.

If there’s any consolation to be found it’s that at that altitude they would have fallen unconscious within 30 seconds or so once the cabin lost pressure.

9 Responses to “14 Minutes Of Terror”

  1. Or the G forces would have knocked them all out even sooner, God willing. We heard this late last night from Cynthia MacFadden and were horrified.

  2. Retread says:

    I have a whole new respect for those guys that fly in to hurricanes to gather data.

  3. Mr. Bingley says:

    That’s a damned good point, retread.

  4. leelu says:

    …ummm, why didn’t the pilot try to fly *around* said monster storm?
    I notice that’s a question not asked in any of the coverage…

  5. JeffS says:

    Hard to say, leelu. At a guess, I’d say that there’s little to no real time weather data collection system in that part of the Atlantic. Weather radar may not have the necessary range, thanks to the laws of physics and geography. That assumes that the referenced satellite system downloads on a scheduled basis, and isn’t fast enough for storm warnings. It also assumes that the storm wasn’t observed by other aircraft or ships.
    Storms can be produced very quickly, depending on the weather conditions. So it’s *possible* that the Air France crew were the first to see the storm. Unfortunately.
    But I really don’t know. I can only hope that this factor is part of the investigation. It’s certainly a valid question.

  6. JeffS says:

    Ummmmmm…..one clarification, leelu. My point is that by the time the aircraft hit the storm, there was no time to fly around, especially if they had no idea how big it was, AND a limited fuel supply.
    Why the pilot decided to fly through the storm instead of simply turning around is another matter, and one that I won’t speculate on. I’ll just note that my father (a pilot with command rating in his younger days) once told me that cumulonimbus clouds (aka “thunderheads”) were also known as “widow makers”.

  7. JeffS says:

    Ummmmmm…..one clarification, leelu. My point is that by the time the aircraft hit the storm, there was no time to fly around, especially if they had no idea how big it was, AND a limited fuel supply.
    Why the pilot decided to fly through the storm instead of simply turning around is another matter, and one that I won’t speculate on. I’ll just note that my father (a pilot with command rating in his younger days) once told me that cumulonimbus clouds (aka “thunderheads”) were also known as “widow makers”.

  8. JeffS says:

    Sorry about the double post, but the server went wacko on me. Must be that nail polish Sis insists on using.

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