The Airbus A330-203 Has a relatively unblemished safety record.
The initial hysteria about Air France Flight 447 from Rio to Paris has died down a bit, especially the foolish pronouncement from a French official that the plane may have been brought down by lightning. This relatively new aircraft design has had only one fatal incident, the result of a software flaw during a 1994 test flight that killed seven Airbus personnel. The spot in the ocean where the aircraft most likely went down, between South America and Africa is notorious for bad weather, specifically huge tropical thunderstorms fed by warm water and warmer air. This is where hurricanes form between June and November, and meteorologists familiar with the area have been quoted by some of the smarter reporters as saying that some of the thunderstorms there top out at 55,00 feet, higher than commercial aircraft are capable of flying, and 20,000 feet higher than the Air France flight was reported as flying.
One forlorn signal was received from the aircraft before it went down, an automated maintenance report from the plane itself reporting that electrical power had gone off and that cabin pressure had failed. This was most likely the result of the plane coming apart in midair. Flying, especially in large commercial aircraft, is still safer than driving in your car, odds-wise, but incidents still occur, and the results can be tragic. Anytime a large group of people die a morbid fascination takes over, especially when it’s the result of an airplane disaster. We’re fascinated by flying, and take it for granted, but deep down in our reptilian brainstems our instincts acknowledge that flying is a miracle, and a precipitous one at that. Keep these folks and their families in your thoughts; burn a candle, light an incense stick, or simply take a look up into the sky and thank whatever your god may be for another day on this beautiful Earth.
UPDATE: 6/3 from MSNBC, which seems to support my theory:
Satellite data has shown that towering thunderheads were sending 100 mph updraft winds into the jet’s flight path just then.
Ten minutes later, a cascade of problems began: Automatic messages indicate the autopilot had disengaged, a key computer system had switched to alternative power, and controls needed to keep the plane stable had been damaged. An alarm sounded indicating the deterioration of flight systems.
Three minutes after that, more automatic messages reported the failure of systems to monitor air speed, altitude and direction. Control of the main flight computer and wing spoilers failed as well.
The last automatic message, at 11:14 p.m., indicated loss of cabin pressure and complete electrical failure — catastrophic events in a plane that was likely already plunging toward the ocean.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
-John Gillespie Magee, Jr
High Flight was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. He was born in Shanghai, China in 1922, the son of missionary parents, Reverend and Mrs. John Gillespie Magee; his father was an American and his mother was originally a British citizen. He came to the U.S. in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940 enlisted in the RCAF and was graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941. In August or September 1941, Pilot Officer Magee composed High Flight and sent a copy to his parents. Several months later, on December 11, 1941 his Spitfire collided with another plane over England and Magee, only 19 years of age, crashed to his death.
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