Black box data from crashed Air France jet said to be intact
Mon May 16, 9:22 am ET
PARIS (Reuters) – Investigators have pulled data from the black boxes of an Air France jet which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009, boosting efforts to explain what caused the disaster and killed all 228 people on board.
France's BEA air crash investigation agency said on Monday it had managed to transfer all the information stored in devices hauled from the seabed two weeks ago, almost two years after the Airbus A330 vanished in an equatorial storm.
The transfer -- carried out at the weekend and filmed in front of investigators from four countries and French judicial officials -- is the most important breakthrough yet in efforts to find out what caused the mysterious crash.
The BEA brought forward its target date for publishing a new report on the crash by around six months and said it may be able to issue interim findings in the summer.
"The most interesting thing will be to find out what the crew were seeing and understanding and how they were reacting and managing their responses," said Paul Hayes, safety director UK-based aviation consultancy Ascend Aviation.
Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris vanished in the storm on June 1, 2009, triggering an international hunt for the wreckage and black boxes that might contain clues.
The recorders were hauled nearly 4 km (2.5 miles) to the sea's surface in early May after a search operation costing $50 million and shipped to Paris, where they arrived on Thursday.
At first it was unclear whether the data would be readable.
The successful data transfer includes all information from the flight data recorder, which monitors aircraft systems, and a loop containing the last two hours of cockpit voice recordings.
The operation took place after the memory cards and chips containing the recordings were dried out in carefully controlled conditions at BEA labs just outside Paris.
The data will now be analysed in detail, the BEA said.
"This work will take several weeks, after which a further interim report will be written and then published during the summer," it said in a statement.
Investigators had earlier said any information gleaned from the black boxes would take months to process and that they did not expect to issue a report until early in 2012.
HOPE FOR ANSWERS
Relatives of some of the 228 people killed in the crash have voiced hope that their two-year wait for an explanation may soon be over.
The next stage of the investigation is expected to focus on whether any systems were at fault, cross-checking with alerts sent out by the aircraft's automatic messaging system, and what information was available to the pilots before the disaster.
Two Lufthansa jets were in the same area half an hour before the Air France crash, the World Meteorological Organization said at the time of the accident, but some passenger aircraft are reported to have taken different routes.
Initial investigations focused on apparently inconsistent readings from the aircraft's Thales speed sensors, as relayed by the aircraft's automatic maintenance message system. But investigators have said no single cause can be identified.
The BEA was expected to make two recordings of the black box data -- one for its own investigation and one for French judges probing whether anyone should be held criminally responsible.
Air France and Airbus, part of the European aerospace group EADS, have both been placed under formal investigation, a step short of charges but which can ultimately lead to trial.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Writing by John Irish; editing by Elizabeth Piper)