Tuesday, August 02, 2011
BLACK BOX REVEALED: The final minutes of Air France Flight 447 Rio de Janeiro-Paris
The solution to a stall is to lower the nose to grab air.
Instead the junior pilot yanked back, thinking the plane was going too fast. Pulling up reduces speed. "I've got a problem I don't have vertical speed. I don't have any indication."
From behind, the captain was first to voice a dawning truth.
"I don't know but right now we're descending," he said.
Now the young pilot pushed forward and the stall receded.
His gesture lasted barely a second but may be pored over in courts for years as the aircraft's manufacturer Airbus will argue it shows the plane was responsive and able to recover. Air France says the plane overwhelmed properly trained pilots with a blizzard of confusing signals and misled them because of a "trap" caused by erratic warnings.
The crew have not been officially named.
As the plane hurtled lower, a pattern of professional directions started to fray, replaced by a rush of questions:
"What's the altitude?"
"What do you mean what altitude?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm descending right?"
The younger pilot appeared increasingly stressed and was subjected to some backseat driving -- yet he was left to fly.
(Captain) "Get your wings horizontal"
(First co-pilot) "Level your wings"
(Second co-pilot) "That's what I'm trying to do".
Flight 447 entered its final minute at 10,000 feet, having plummeted from 38,000.
"What the -- how is it we are going down like this?" asked the junior pilot.
"See what you can do with the commands up there, the primaries and so on," the senior co-pilot said.
By nine thousand feet, the situation must have been dire.
"Climb climb climb climb," ordered the senior co-pilot.
"But I have been pulling back on the stick all the way for a while," observed the younger pilot. In a stall, however, pilots point down to fix the stall first and only then climb to safety.
The captain interjected: "No, no, no, don't climb."
Senior co-pilot: "Ok give me control, give me control."
The plane was at 4,000 feet, its nose up quite sharply.
"Watch out you are pulling up," prodded the captain.
"Am I?" said the first co-pilot.
"Well you should, we are at 4,000," said the young pilot.
It is not possible to tell whether the crew finally alighted on what most experts call the right solution, but now they only had one choice, which was to think about avoiding water.
Both pilots pulled on their sticks as far as they could.
The computer spoke. "Sink rate. Pull up, pull up, pull up".
"Go on, the captain urged, "pull".
"We're pulling, pulling, pulling, pulling," said number 3.
The transcript showed the three men remained fully focused on trying to right the plane throughout the final four minutes. At no point did they discuss the possibility they and their passengers were about to die.
The last words that could be made out from the veteran captain were remarkably calm, reverting to cool-headed jargon.
"Ten degrees pitch," he appears to have said.
Less than half a second later, the recording stopped.
SHOOT: Sobering. Now we know. Here's the rest via Reuters.