A report on CNN this morning has the French version of our NTSB saying that AF447, the Airbus 330 that went down into the Atlantic last month, did not break up in mid-flight as was theorized.
The Air France plane that crashed last month with 228 people aboard “did not break up or become destroyed in flight,” the French air investigation agency announced Thursday.
“The plane went straight down … towards the surface of the water, very very fast,” air accident investigator Alain Bouillard said.
Based on visual study of the physical remains of the Airbus A330 that have been recovered, “we were able to see that the plane hit the surface of the water flat. Therefore everything was pushed upwards — everthing was pushed from the bottom to the top” of the plane, he said.
The 228 people killed in the crash “had no time to prepare,” he said.
There’s something missing, here. Aircraft do not simply vertically sink, bottom-first, through thousands of feet of air. They are designed in such a way as to make that nearly impossible. They’ll engage in what’s called a “flat spin” in certain circumstances (none of them good for healthy flying) but there’s no mention of that in this report. In fact, the statement of how they saw “everything was pushed upwards” makes no sense if they actually hit the water flat – unless they were inverted, or upside-down, when they hit. If they were in a normal attitude and impacted the water flat, the resulting deceleration vector would have been down, not up, and everything would have been squeezed onto the floor.
Had an aircraft of that size been in a flat spin, the forces would have increased the further from the center of the plane you go. Those near the ends – the cockpit and the tail – would have been forced out against the surfaces of the plane and leaning in the opposite direction of the spin. The pilots would likely have been pinned against the instrument panel and the aft flight attendants against the rear bulkheads. Passengers would have been pinned against the fuselage or been folded over into the aisle depending on where they were sitting. As you get nearer the center of the spin, the force becomes weaker until it’s just a rotational feeling without the G-force effects. Aviation engineers will need to weigh in on this but I doubt a ship the size of an Airbus 330 could sustain a spin rate sufficient to stabilize the plane in a flat spin without the forces tearing off parts of the plane and possibly even cracking off the nose or tail. Less than that spin rate would have allowed the design of the plane to begin to “nose over” and turn the flat spin into a diving spin, something that would at least allow some air to flow over the control surfaces and offer the pilots a chance to recover.
Even during the descent if the plane had been in a flat spin it would not have been falling at faster than terminal velocity. That means the passengers and materials in the cabin of the plan would have remained on the floor or in their seats, even if the falling would result in a less than 1-G environment. A 25-pound bag might have weighed 10 pounds during the fall, but that 10 pounds isn’t going to be floating to the ceiling. Only if the plane was falling faster than the bag can go (and Galileo’s experiments proved that doesn’t generally happen) would the bag be pinned to the ceiling all the way down.
Too many unanswered questions, here.