The French air accident investigation agency, the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) is examining the incident involving an Air France A330-200 airliner over the South Atlantic on December 1.
The aircraft, F-GZCK, was operating Flight AF445 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, with 12 crew and 203 passengers on board. Some four hours out from Rio de Janeiro it encountered severe turbulence and its pilots took the aeroplane down to a lower flight level.
According to a statement issued by Air France, the aircraft undertook a “normal descent” to an altitude with less turbulence. Unable to contact air traffic control to report the change in the aircraft’s flight level, the flight crew “sent out an emergency radio message to indicate that the aircraft had left its flight level”.
The online edition of Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Brasil, JB Online, reported that day (December 1) that F-GZCK had “dived” during the incident.
The BEA says that it is interested in this incident because it “might provide further insight” into the still mysterious loss of another Air France A330-200, F-GZCP, on June 1. That aircraft crashed into the South Atlantic on June 1 while operating Flight AF447 from Rio to Paris, killing all 228 people on board. The aircraft was traversing a region of storms at the time.
Flying the same route, it looks as if F-GZCK ran into the severe turbulence in the same zone (not the same point) that the ill-fated F-GZCP encountered storms. The last radar contact with F-GZCP was three hours and eighteen minutes after takeoff; it is known to have encountered the stormy weather some twelve minutes later, or three hours thirty minutes after takeoff, while the F-GZCK incident occurred about four hours after leaving Rio.
(The flight designation AF447 was scrapped after the loss of F-GZCP and replaced by AF445).
The BEA is scheduled to publish a second report on the F-GZCP disaster on December 17. The wreckage of the aircraft, including its two Black Boxes, the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Digital Flight Data Recorder, has still not been located.
A new search phase is likely to be undertaken in 2010 and is likely to involve, in addition to France, Brazil, the US, UK, and Germany, and possibly other countries. Airbus, the manufacturer of the lost airliner, is reported to have committed between €12-million and €20-million to help fund this new search.
The original search of the surface of the ocean by the Brazilian and French air forces and navies resulted in the recovery of 51 bodies and more than 600 pieces of debris, including structural parts of the lost aircraft, not counting pieces of luggage that were also retrieved.