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article imageSpeculation Over Cause Of Crash Of Flight 447 Surfaces

By Alakananda Mookerjee     Jun 1, 2009 in World
Even as the search for the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean continues, speculation over the possible cause of the presumed crash has begun.
Calling the A330 “one of the most reliable planes in the world", the French minister overseeing transportation, Jean-Louis Borloo told The Associated Press that “lightning alone, even from a fierce tropical storm, probably couldn't have brought down the plane.”
A source who was not identified by Reuters told the news agency, “You can't tie it down to lightning with the information we have; for me it's a red herring.”
An unnamed Air France pilot who flies on long-range sectors also said, “I would not think it was possible that lightning could lead to short-circuit and disrupt all of the plane's electrical systems. Test planes have resisted some 30 lightning strikes and nothing ever happened.”
Experts began to poke holes in the thunder-and-lightening theory because two aircraft that were flying on a nearly identical flight path—one before and one after the ill-fated airliner—made it safely through the area. They reported nothing unusual other than encountering inclement weather and “strong turbulence.”
Barely 30 minutes prior to the passage of the Airbus A330, a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 headed to Frankfurt, passed through the same area. Two hours later, another cargo plane MD-11—also operated by Lufthansa—also “passed just south” of the very same spot taken by the French Airbus.
A pilot, an airplane owner and a freelance journalist Miles O’Brien writes:
It was a dark and stormy night—in a place that is home to the world's worst thunderstorms. Just as it disappeared, the Airbus A330-203 was flying into a thick band of convective activity that rose to 41,000 feet. This equatorial region is known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone—it is where Northeast and Southeast Trade Winds meet—forcing a lot of warm, moist air upward—which condenses—an efficient thunderstorm producing machine.
The crew had "Sully-esque" seasoning—The Captain had 11,000 hours total time (1700 in the Airbus A330/A340). One Copilot had 3,000 hours total time (800 in the Airbus A330/340) and the other Copilot had 6,600 hours total time (2,600 in the Airbus A330/340).
In theory, it is not impossible for a bolt of lightening to disable an airplane, by igniting a fuel fire. But that is “highly unlikely” writes O’Brien because of the below reasons:
(1) Lightening strikes are not rare occurrences. In fact, they happen routinely but they seldom result in air disasters.
(2) Aircraft made out of resistant aluminum like the A330 are well-equipped to withstand them. "The massive current passes along the metal fuselage and is allowed to arc towards earth without causing harm." The last time a lightening hit downed a jetliner was in 1962. It was also an Air France plane, a Boeing 707 with 113 people on board.
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