Death in the Atlantic The Last Four Minutes of Air France Flight 447
Part 5: Minute Four: Impact
More than 200 tons of metal, plastic, kerosene and human bodies smashed into the sea. The sheer force of the impact is described in the forensic report, which lists in graphic detail how lungs were torn apart and bones were shredded end to end. Some of the passengers were sliced in half by their seatbelt.
Much of the debris that has been recovered is no larger than a square meter (10 square feet). The shear-lines run at a conspicuous angle. This shows that the plane did not plunge vertically into the sea, but rather hit the water like a flat hand, with the nose of the aircraft pointing upwards at a five-degree angle. Of particular interest is the large tailfin that was recovered from the ocean by the Brazilian navy. This was ripped from its anchoring and catapulted forwards. From this, it can be deduced that the A330 was brought to a halt with a force more than 36 times that of normal gravity: 36g.
Although Airbus continues to play down the significance of the pitot tubes in the crash of its A330, the company's engineers have since developed new technologies that will detect the breakdown of airspeed sensors even before takeoff. Airbus registered a patent for this technology in the US on Dec. 3, 2009. In the words of the patent application, errors in speed measurements "can have catastrophic consequences."
For several years now, Airbus has offered its customers a special safety program - called "Buss" -- at a cost of 300,000 per aircraft. If the airspeed indicator fails, this software shows pilots the angle at which they must point the plane.
Up to now, Air France has chosen not to invest in this optional extra for its fleet.
Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt