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article imageHigh-altitude, sudden break-up suspected in Air France crash

By Michael Cosgrove     Jun 3, 2009 in World
It is being reported that debris from the crash of Air France flight AF447 has been found over a distance of more than 300 kilometers. If confirmed, that would suggest that the plane broke up at high altitude. There were no survivors.
Two days after the crash, which took place in the middle of the Atlantic, French daily Le Figaro reports that a source close to the enquiry has revealed that the debris found is spread over a very large area.
A reconnaissance flight yesterday discovered debris, including seats and other objects, over more than 300 kilometers.
The source is quoted as saying “You can see debris over a three hundred kilometer stretch. Whilst we still have to wait for more information, this initial data pleads in favour of an in-flight break up of the plane.”
If the information is confirmed, a break-up occurring at around 10 000 meters, or 32 850 feet, which is the height at which the plane was flying when it sent its last automated distress message, could have been caused by one of several events. They include the exceptionally violent meteorological conditions occurring at that height and at that time, a sudden and catastrophic cabin depressurisation or an explosion.
This kind of debris spread is characteristic of high-altitude break-up. The Pan Am 747 which which broke up over Lockerbie in Scotland after the explosion of a bomb aboard was flying at a similar height, 9400 m or 31 000 feet, as the Air France plane, which is said to have been flying at around 10 000 m or 32 000 feet. Debris from the 747 was found over a similar distance.
The fact that a bomb exploded on the 747 would not fundamentally change debris spread compared to a break-up caused by weather, as the bomb ruptured the plane’s structure but was not strong enough to disperse parts of it in the explosion.
A high-altitude break-up could also explain why no message was received from the plane's crew after the automated and increasingly cascading distress messages began to be transmitted.
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