AF447: the search

If Paul-Louis Arslanian, the BEA’s chief investigator in charge of the AF447 probe, says he does not have any answers yet, how can the rest of the world be so sure of its many theories?

Arslanian has more direct access to information than any of us has, and an international team of the best analysts available. But you can tell by his demeanour that he doesn’t have answers yet. Not of the causal variety, anyway.

Like the rest of us who want to understand what happened, I’m certain he has fears about what he might find but, as he reminded journalists firmly at a press conference today (17 June), it is his job at all times to deal only in established facts. He is clearly very tired of the out-of-control speculation about AF447 which, he says, only serves to create “confusion”.

I believe that the reason Arslanian called the press conference today, despite not having any more technical information to impart since the last time he spoke about a week ago, was because it was an opportunity he could not afford to ignore. The global media was gathered for the Paris Air Show on the doorstep of the BEA’s Le Bourget headquarters, so he thought he would do his best to paint a picture of the task his team faces, and to describe in detail the nature of the search for evidence. 

The search so far, and the plans for the next few weeks of the search, will shortly be revealed on Flightglobal. They are impressive, multinational, and a testimony to the industry’s determination to do what it takes to ensure that mystery is dispelled.

AF447 is like other accidents in many respects. It’s absolutely normal not to have a clue, for months, about what was likely to have caused a recent accident, even if it took place at a major international airport. Only a little less than three weeks have passed since AF447′s loss, but because of where it took place, nothing truly meaningful has been recovered yet. 

What has made this accident feel somehow different is the fact that we have been tantalised by the ACARS data. That is a first. We are not used to it. The trouble is the ACARS data is incomplete, generating questions but providing no answers. It only supplies symptoms and doesn’t identify the disease. As a result, the field of plausible possibilities remains almost endless.

The interrupted ACARS data provides no evidence of why and how the aircraft got from a high cruising altitude to contact with the sea. It provides us with no aircraft structural data, and absolutely no information about what the crew saw, felt, thought, said and did.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Information vacuums are just as unpopular. Intelligent people will not be able to resist rehearsing “what if” scenarios, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that - unless the people doing it forget that they are just guessing.

2 Responses to AF447: the search

  1. nik coleman 19 June, 2009 at 10:49 pm #

    Once again, clear rational and immaculate writing by David. May i also add my thanks to Mr L for knocking the BBC coverage of the tragic ‘pilot death’ flight into shape. Yesterdays BBC coverage – credited to an ‘aviation expert’ had a heroic teenage co-pilot battling with a 777 that knew there was only one person on the flight deck as it plunged into Newark for an – shame on you BBC – ‘Emergency landing’. Said ‘expert’ claimed the 777 would be ‘very difficult’ to land single handed. Fortunately David set the record straight today with a balanced piece that depicts Boeings product as rather less of a death trap. May you write forever David!

    Nik Coleman

  2. Joost Ruiter 25 June, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Excellent blog, it is sometimes sickening to see the degree of speculation-turned-to-”i know what happenend” on the different aviation forums.