Friday, May 6, 2011

Big progress in the Air France mystery!

Long-time readers of my blog will remember that I was fascinated by the mystery of Air France flight 447 in the summer of 2009.

After a long dry spell, there has been big progress in this area in the last few weeks: a multi-national team of deep sea investigators found the wreckage on the sea floor and have been bringing it up to the surface for study. The New York Times has a major article on this in this weekend's Sunday Magazine, and here's another nice article from Boston's WBUR radio station.

Over on BoingBoing, Maggie Koerth-Baker has a great interview with Mike Purcell of the Woods Hole team. Even after all the years of effort trying to narrow down where to look, the team still had a massive area to search with their robotic submarine, and searching the ocean floor with a robotic submarine is very time-consuming and detail-oriented work:

There's no data transmission back to the ship while the vehicles are in the water. We get status messages—acoustic messages that come in periodically and tell us how deep it is, latitude and longitude, just a status check to tell us whether there's problems. When the AUV gets back, it takes 45 minutes to download the data and then another half hour to process and get a good look at it. During that time the other team is switching out the battery and getting the vehicle ready to go back in. The ideal is that a vehicle is only out of the water for three hours, while somebody is looking at the data to decide where we go from here and are there things we want to look at again. When we're running three vehicles we get a data dump three times a day.

I love the picture that shows what "the find" actually looked like to the research team: just funny different-colored squiggles on a computer screen. As Purcell delicately notes, "It's good to have an experienced person looking at this stuff."

Big time congratulations to the team(s) for their breakthrough; I'm eagerly anticipating what we'll learn from the material they've been able to bring up to the surface.


  1. A kid in my son's school was in that plane -it was pretty hard on all the schoolkids. Hopefully the records may provide some more details on what went wrong, and answer some of the questions his family will have, though never take away their loss.

  2. New developments: