Air France plane experienced technical problems before crash (Lead)

June 6th, 2009 - 8:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Paris, June 6 (DPA) Signals from the Air France jetliner that vanished over the Atlantic suggest that the aircraft experienced a number of technical breakdowns before it plunged into the sea, the head of the Office of Accident Investigations and Analyses (BEA) said Saturday.
“Numerous systems broke down, including the automatic pilot,” Paul-Louis Arslanian told journalists in Paris.

In addition, the plane sent 24 failure signals in the five minutes before contact with the aircraft was lost early Monday.

The Airbus A330-200 disappeared early Monday while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 216 passengers and a crew of 12. Not a trace of the plane or its occupants have been found.

Arslanian said the on-board computer had shut off the automatic pilot because data from three speed-measuring instruments showed differences of 50 km per hour.

The BEA is now looking into earlier velocity-measuring problems encountered by this type of Airbus, he said.

An answer to the mystery over the plane’s fate could only be found by examining the wreckage, and above all the two black boxes, Arslanian said.

But he raised the possibility that the boxes - a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder - may have become detached from a beacon which sends out an ultrasonic signal for 30 days after any accident.

That could mean that the boxes are lost forever, and that the cause of the accident may never be determined.

Arslanian said the US was providing ultra-sensitive detection equipment to help in the search for the airliner.

The equipment is to be transported on two ships - a French research vessel with a robot diver and a submarine - to the search zone, which is located about 1,200 km off the coast of Brazil.

Both ships are able to recover objects at depths of up to 6,000 metres.

Speaking in the northern French city of Caen, US President Barack Obama said Saturday that he had authorised the use “of all our resources” to help determine where the Airbus A330-200 crashed and to gather as much information as possible.

“We do not know yet what exactly happened,” Obama said. “But it is heart-breaking.”

The French nuclear-powered submarine Emeraude, equipped with highly sensitive sonar technology, is also being deployed to the search area.

“We are not counting on just luck,” the BEA’s Arslanian said.

Meanwhile the German news magazine Der Spiegel in its latest edition cited a leading US aviation expert as proposing that ongoing flight data be automatically transmitted via satellite to a backup system, so that that data would still be available.

American expert Robert Francis, former deputy head of the National Transportation Safety Board which investigates air crashes in the US, told the magazine that such a backup system would not require too much extra technical equipment.

“Precisely this crash (Air France) proves how valuable this technology could be,” Francis said, adding it “would be a scandal for aviation” if the Air France plane’s black box is not recovered.

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