In an accident reminiscent of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Air France Flight 447 disappeared over a stretch of the ocean where there was no radar coverage. In June 2009, this Airbus A330-200 airliner carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members disappeared over the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
For several days, no one knew what had happened. But even after wreckage was spotted and recovered, the circumstances remained murky. The state-of-the-art jet was equipped with the latest tracking and communication equipment, yet it hadn't emitted a distress signal at any point. Two years later, the plane's black boxes were finally recovered from the ocean [source: Smith].
French air safety investigators concluded in a 2012 report that the tragedy likely had been caused by an odd cascade of errors. Ice crystals accumulated on a probe, causing it to give incorrect speed readings and the autopilot system to disengage. The aircraft's two co-pilots, who were in charge at the time because the captain was taking a break, apparently became confused by the malfunction. By the time the captain rejoined them 90 seconds later, the airplane already was in a stall that he could not avert. The plane crashed two minutes and thirty seconds later [source: BEA].
Why it took the captain so long to respond to the co-pilots' frantic calls for help has never been explained. News media reported that the captain was accompanied on the flight by a female companion, and that he'd only slept one hour the night before [sources: Battiste, Smith].
Author's Note: 10 Unsolved Airplane Mysteries
I've long been fascinated with the Amelia Earhart case, ever since I read a book as a boy that argued that she had been captured by the Japanese and possibly executed as a spy. I was surprised to discover, however, that so many aircraft had disappeared over the decades.
- Amelia Earhart Official Website. "Biography." AmeliaEarhart.com. (April 13, 2014). http://www.ameliaearhart.com/about/bio2.html
- Associated Press. "A look at some passengers on Flight 370." USA Today. March 29, 2014. (April 13,2014) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/03/29/malaysia-flight-370-passengers/7051605/
- Associated Press. "Missing plane's black box batteries may have died." Washington Post. April 12, 2014. (April 13, 2014)
- Aviation Safety Network. "About ASN." Aviation-safety.net. (April 13, 2014) http://aviation-safety.net/about/
- Battiste, Nikki. "Was Air France Captain With a Woman When Flight 447 Was in Trouble?" ABC News. June 6, 2012. (April 13, 2014) http://news.yahoo.com/air-france-captain-woman-flight-447-trouble-214157897--abc-news-topstories.html
- BBC. "'STENDEC' - Stardust's final mysterious message." BBC. Nov. 2, 2000. (April 13, 2014) http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/vanished_stendec.shtml
- BBC. "Vanished: The Plane That Disappeared." BBC. Nov. 2, 2000. (April 13, 2014) http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/vanished.shtml
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses. "Final Report On the accident on 1st June 2009 to the Airbus A330-203 registered F-GZCP operated by Air France flight AF 447 Rio de Janeiro – Paris." Bea.aero. July 2012. (April 13, 2014) http://www.bea.aero/docspa/2009/f-cp090601.en/pdf/f-cp090601.en.pdf
- Burke, Matthew M. "Listing on Vietnam Wall sought for troops killed in 1962 plane crash." Stripes.com. July 24, 2013. (April 13, 2014) http://www.stripes.com/news/listing-on-vietnam-wall-sought-for-troops-killed-in-1962-plane-crash-1.231996
- Daily Mail. "'Ghost flight' horror crash blamed on pilots." Daily Mail. Oct. 10, 2006. (April 13, 2014) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-409703/Ghost-flight-horror-crash-blamed-pilots.html
- Hastings, Deborah. "Malaysia Airlines flight is latest entry to list of mysteriously missing aircraft." New York Daily News. March 15, 2014. (April 14, 2014) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/malaysia-airlines-jet-newest-entry-weird-missing-aircraft-list-article-1.1722811#ixzz2ypgGNEWf.
- Krisch, Joshua A. "10 Unsolved Aviation Mysteries." Popularmechanics.com. (April 14, 2014) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/aviation/crashes/10-unsolved-aviation-mysteries-4#slide-4
- Langewiesche, William. "The Crash of EgyptAir 990." The Atlantic. Nov. 1, 2001. (April 13, 2014) http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/11/the-crash-of-egyptair-990/302332/
- National Guard History eMuseum. "Captain Thomas Francis Mantell Jr." Kynghistory.ky.gov. May 29, 2008. (April 14, 2014) http://kynghistory.ky.gov/history/4qtr/addinfo/mantellthomas.htm
- National Public Radio. "For 50 Years, Nuclear Bomb Lost in Watery Grave." Npr.org. Feb. 3, 2008. (April 13, 2014) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18587608
- Randle, Kevin. "An Analysis of the Thomas Mantell UFO Case." Nicap.org. (April 14, 2014) http://www.nicap.org/docs/mantell/analysis_mantell_randle.pdf
- Roach, John and Than, Ker. "Where is Amelia Earhart?" National Geographic, July 24, 2012. (April 14, 2014). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/120724-amelia-earhart-google-doodle-fred-noonan-115th-nation-science/
- Smith, Oliver. "Malaysia Airlines MH370: 10 more aviation mysteries." The Telegraph. March 17, 2014. (April 13, 2014) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/10702745/Malaysia-Airlines-MH370-10-more-aviation-mysteries.html
- Topham, Gwynn. "Malaysian Airlines plane mystery: how can a flight disappear off radar?" The Guardian. March 10, 2014. (April 13, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/10/malaysia-airlines-plane-mystery-disappear-off-radar
- Topham, Gwyn. "Plane disappearances - a brief history." The Guardian. March 13, 2014. (April 13, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/13/plane-disappearances-brief-history
- Wald, Matthew. "Report Finds Co-Pilot at Fault In Fatal Crash of EgyptAir 990." The New York Times. March 22, 2002. (April 14, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/22/us/report-finds-co-pilot-at-fault-in-fatal-crash-of-egyptair-990.html
- Wright, Tim. "The 727 that Vanished." Air & Space Magazine. Sept 2010. (April 13, 2014) http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/the-727-that-vanished-2371187/?no-ist
Airplanes use ground and satellite transmissions to provide internet access and network TV telecasts. HowStuffWorks looks at the technology.