24 March 2015

Really Bad Day at the Office

Line width is altitude, circles represent speed

Little pieces indicate high speed impact
Germanwings Flight 9525 flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf has crashed in the Alps, there appear to be no survivors. The flight profile is kind of weird:
A passenger jet carrying 150 people crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday. Officials expect no survivors.

Germanwings Flight 9525 left Barcelona at 10:01 a.m. CET for Dusseldorf and went down about 430 miles south-southeast of Paris. The plane, a 24-year-old Airbus A320, was operated by the Lufthansa-owned budget carrier.

Images from the crash site show small pieces of the plane scattered throughout the mountainside, suggesting a violent impact — and significantly decreasing the likelihood of any survivors.

"Appalling images in this mountain landscape," said Christopher Castaner, deputy mayor of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, near where the plane crashed. "There is nothing left but debris and bodies."

Germanwings officials initially said Flight 9295 sent a distress signal about an hour after takeoff before crashing into a mountainous zone at an altitude of about 6,550 feet.

The descent from 38,000 feet lasted nearly eight minutes.

However, France's aviation authority reported that the plane never sent a signal, and officials lost radio contact with the flight. The plane went down in mid-flight — an uncommon occurrence as the majority of plane crashes happen during takeoff or landing.
(emphasis mine)

This is weird.

The flight profile appears to be consistent with a loss of pressure incident, where the pilots try to get down to safe altitude, and if this situation led to a loss of situational awareness as well, it could end with a CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain).

But they should have gotten a call out, or at least change the transponder code to the emergency setting, but they did neither.

Another possibility is some sort of air data sensor problem, but I would expect something like an Air France 447 scenario, with a stall or some other departure under those circumstances.

Also, it appears that while the flight did divert from its assigned altitude, it did not deviate from its planned course.

That's just plain weird:
  • The aircraft appeared under control throughout the flight.
  • There was no distress call.
  • They did not divert to a nearby airport.
  • The aircraft had been checked out by maintenance on the previous day. (First link)
This is, to quote Alice, "Curiouser and curiouser."

Absent some conspiracy theories that sound like they came from the short-lived X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunman, I am at a loss.

Here's hoping that the flight data recorder will provide a clue.


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