Deadly storm: The crash of Air France Flight 447


Air France Flight 447, a scheduled long-haul flight departs Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bound for Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. Just after three hours later, the last verbal communication with the aircraft takes place.

After that, radio silence. When the flight failed to respond to calls from air traffic controllers and from another Air France flight, the alert was raised. It was soon discovered that the plane had gone down in the Atlantic; all 228 souls onboard perished.

It would be nearly two years later that the aircraft’s flight data recorders were recovered from the bottom of the ocean, and an accurate picture of the events that led to the crash was pieced together.

The aircraft involved in the accident, an Airbus 330, is usually crewed and flown by two pilots. However, because the Rio de Janeiro-Paris route (a 13-plus hours long flight) exceeds the maximum 10-hour allowed duty time, a third officer was added to the crew. Thus, one crew member can always take a rest without compromising the two-man rule.

A damning new report published in Vanity Fair today however, reveals the fact that two pilots were asleep shortly before the crash. It was in fact the less experienced officer, 32-year-old Pierre Cedric-Bonin, who had been left to fly the aircraft on his own. This was in direct contravention of Air France regulations.

Failure of the aircraft’s pitot tubes due to icycle formation, and incorrect reactive measures taken by the flight crew would be officially listed as causes of the crash. The aircraft entered into a high altitude stall from which it never recovered. It descended rapidly from nearly 40,000 feet (above its operation ceiling) and slammed into the Atlantic Ocean belly-first with its engines revving up at 100% power. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, killing everyone on board.

As a result of the crash, Air France modified its training scenarios to deal with high altitude stall events.

MH370: Flight into eternity


MH370. Modern aviation, and the world at large, will forever remember this fateful identifier.

It began just like any other scheduled flight. Passengers awkwardly moving down the crowded aisles, looking for their allocated seats. Here, the clatter of the overhead compartment as people stow their belongings away. There, the nervous laughter of those not so keen on flying as they fumble with their seat belts and try to settle for a long night flight. Hidden from view, an air hostess hurriedly dusts off her uniform while one of her colleagues checks the passenger manifest. The long cabin bustles with activity.

Locked away in the cockpit, the flight crew preps the aircraft for departure.

The Boeing 777, callsign MAS370, slowly hums into life as systems are initialized and pre-flight checklists are thoroughly completed. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah will be flying the aircraft tonight. He is a seasoned aviator, a keen flight enthusiast with over 18,000 flying hours to his name. Zaharie’s First Officer in tonight’s flight is 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid. With just over 2,000 flying hours, this is Hamid’s first flight as a fully qualified first officer in a Boeing 777.

MH370 is scheduled to depart Kuala Lumpur International Airport after midnight, March 08.

As the aircraft taxies down the runway, the lights of the terminal become momentarily brighter, as the plane’s taxi lights are switched off to avoid distracting any pilot attempting to land.

‘MH370, permitted for take off’, the air traffic controller announces. ‘Good night.’

‘MH370 copies that. Thank you, and goodbye.’

Zaharie opens up the throttles and the aircraft obediently and rapidly picks up speed. As it thunders down the runway, the passengers within watch the world outside become a blur. They will never see dry land again.

The aircraft reaches take off speed and the captain pulls back on the control column. The Boeing rotates, and for a fleeting moment, gravity fights to maintain its hold on this man made artefact. The machine’s raw power trounces nature however, and the aircraft neatly leaves the ground, initiating its final ascent into the skies. It’s 0:41 local time.

Inside, the passengers prepare to sleep, or perhaps listen to some relaxing music, or read their favourite best seller. 239 souls in total travel in this state of the art aircraft. 239 people, from 13 different countries, all blissfully unaware of the drama that would shortly unfold, unaware of the events that would turn this normal, scheduled flight out of Malaysia tonight into one of the biggest mysteries of modern aviation.

MH370 would vanish less than an hour later. The plane reached its cruising altitude at 35,000 feet, and then communications were disabled, either accidentally or intentionally. Only time will tell.

The aircraft veered off course and flew into history, carrying its human cargo into eternity.