Update on Germanwings; news conference highlights

March 25, 2015: It’s the end of the business day in France, where the Germanwings A320 crashed. Here’s the latest:

  • The cockpit voice recorder was recovered yesterday, badly damaged. It’s been reported that investigators are having difficulty recovering data.
  • The flight data recorder was recovered today, but it, too, was badly damaged and the memory chip is reported missing.
  • There is a theory emerging in Europe that the cockpit windscreen cracked, causing a depressurization that led to hypoxia and pilot incapacitation. Christine Negroni, who is a safety journalist, talks about this possibility in a recorded interview. However, John Cox, a safety expert, emailed us that the windscreen is double-paned and this hasn’t happened before. He is a former A320 captain with a major US airline.
  • A news conference is reportedly scheduled for 11am Eastern time.

News conference highlights

As could be expected, there was little concrete information about the events of the airplane and what caused the accident. Remi Jouty, director of of the French Bureau of Investigation, recounted the flight path and communication concerns of the Air Traffic Control. He also said:

  • The descent began eight minutes after the last communication with the airplane.
  • The CVR has audible data, but it’s too soon to have any kind of analysis of what’s on the data. Initial analysis could be days away but a detailed transcript weeks and months.
  • Although the New York Times reported the second black box, the flight data recorder, has been recovered but was missing the all-important data chip, Jouty said (via the translator) “We have not at all localized the second black box.” News reports quote the French president saying the box itself was recovered but it had no contents.
  • Responding to questions about the theories of depressurization, Jouty said (via translator), “AT this point I don’t have even a beginning of a scenario. I refuse to construct any kind of scenario to include depressurization of the airplane.”
  • Jouty did not know if the auto-pilot was engaged.
  • He confirmed the descent rate was about 3,000 ft/min with some “fluctuations,” based on radar data.

We don’t believe there is going to be any news of consequence to the investigation until the CVR audio is analyzed and information released; and/or until the flight data recorder is found and analyzed. Mapping wreckage and recovery of remains will continue.

We’ll monitor events but otherwise plan to stand down until developments warrant.


28 Comments on “Update on Germanwings; news conference highlights

  1. The alleged theories on the causal factors are pure supposition and not cognicent of the Annex 13 ICAO requirements.

    The link below gives an excellent brief by a state air accident investigator, from 6:10 mins on Primetime news programme, on the actual process at play to achieve clarity on the causes at play in this accident.

    Respecting the families and crews right to due process should be a major consideration to all parties, the data which emerges from the investigation will drive the safety and operational implications.

  2. British airways flight 5390 had its windscreen blown off due to misplacing the bullets and the pilot was blown off

    • That’s “bolts” not “bullets” and in any event that was human error on a BAC111.

      • And being a zany Brit the pilot survived to return to his job inside of 6 month. ( Though his crew didn’t release his assumed dead body more for fear of clogging an engine
        than saving his life.)

    • The windshield on the BAC-111 aircraft was badly designed with the pressure panes mechanically fastened from the outside and not secured from the inside, which is practically fail-safe due to the pressure differential — unless, of course, the pane itself suffers a complete and sudden catastrophic failure.

      Further reading:

  3. We’ve all been thinking of the value of satellite downloading flight data to resolve disappearances over seas, but this incident points to the need for such a data dump even over major nations.

    Frankly, these days, data is cheap. The only onerous cost is bandwidth, and the accumulated cost to feed boring and useless data via satellite for hours. So, what if we developed a system that triggered a quick data dump to satellite, under set parameters? For all flights, the key FDR parameters would be continuously packaged, ready to transmit to satellite (and all out of reach from the pilots or potential terrorists). Then, when a specific accident parameter is met, the latest package gets transmitted.

    In this case, a continuous and/or excessive descent rate from FL380 to say 5,000ft AGL would be a reasonable trigger to transmit. Such a system conceivably eliminates the need for that chip they are reporting as missing.

  4. Why did 2 FDR’s not survive? Aren’t those things made to survive crashes like these?! Very frustrating.

    • The CVR did survive, it just took some time to extract data from it. We don’t know yet about the FDR, as they’ve now said it’s not been found so far.

    • There are limits to the ability of recorders to survive a severe impact, which this crash was.

      Modern designs may be better but not invincible.

      I expect the protected capsule could get separated from the chassis where electronics are (depends on design). Give investigators time to search.

      • As general background, I note that:
        – investigators must be careful when reading the chips/tapes from recorders, to not damage or erase thus prevent reading.
        – if the recording media have damage even more care is needed
        – fire is a problem, newer designs may be better. In PW314 in Cranbrook BC authorities did not get the CVR out promptly so smoldering fire made the tape unreadable.
        – be cautious about extemporaneous remarks even from investigators, especially when translation is involved.
        – be even more cautious about people repeating things, for example “the chip is missing” could mean the protected capsule containing the solid-state memory is missing.
        – sometimes unprotected memory in navigation devices survives, FMS navigators and flight tracking devices contain good information about the last part of the flight. For example, in one accident a bit of circuitry was recovered from a Latitude Technologies flight-following device, it had enough information to establish why the aircraft was in the location it crashed at.

  5. I am sorry: By the photo’s aspect, it seems not possible that the memory chip has not very conveniently f a l l e n out. This added to the alleged A330 manipulation by BEA at AF447, the stuttering explanation of the Indonesian authorities why they are not releasing anything meaningful and the established fact that the electronic system of Airbus, independently of the aircraft model is anything but Pilot friendly.

    The is much in play for Airbus. 3 jets falling from the sky. As statistic show that in cruise catastrophic incidents probability is 10%, 3 such incidents in a row at a sole manufacturer is short of a Miracle!!

    • Correction!
      it seems not possible that the memory chep “has conveniently fallen out”

      • French investigators say the FDR hasn’t been recovered, countering the report of the NYT.

        • My French isn’t perfect, but what I got from that part of the press conference was:

          – The BEA doesn’t have the flight data recorder and doesn’t have information on whether it’s been found
          – The FDR is designed to survive impacts like this without smashing into lots of small pieces
          – The site is big but not huge, so they don’t expect major difficulties in finding the FDR.

          Relating to the contents of the CVR:
          – The BEA believe they have data from the whole flight, but have not yet started to analyse it
          – They’re not commenting on the contents of the CVR in any way shape or form, no matter how many times the questions were asked in French or English.

    • @huiqingsu

      Have you ever heard about a conspiracy crap detector; or BS detection: 😉

      Quote: Citizens living in a democracy, if they hope to keep that democracy, need to learn how to tell the difference between facts and bullshit.


      Perhaps you’re also familiar with this one?

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      Carl Sagan

  6. I just heard the BEA press conference. It was very similar to what we would expect to see and hear with the NTSB. The conference was announced less than 24 hours after the crash and the speaker answered questions in French and English from several journalists around the world. Here is what we have learned.

    The CVR was recovered and is fully readable from beginning to end. But the FDR has not been found yet. No parts whatsoever. But the speaker was optimistic that it would be found because the crash area is relatively small. Wether the data would be recoverable or not is a different story though. But ideally they would like to compare the data from both the CVR and FDR and play them back in synch to see what one has to say about the other.

    The BEA speaker said that he would not be able to build a depressurization scenario that would fit with what they already know about the accident. But he refused to comment on wether the pilots were conscious or not. On the other hand he did not dismiss the possibility of a highjack. He mentioned that the flight profile was compatible would either the pilots in control or the auto-pilot manoeuvring the plane. He also said that it was impossible that only one engine was not operating but he could not exclude that possibility for both engines at the same time.

    What I found particularly interesting is the hesitation the speaker displayed when asked about wether they could hear voices or if the pilots were silent. He actually refused to make further comments on this.

  7. Thank god the CVR works. Together with the ATC data, wreckage and aircraft/ passenger records that’s something.

    • Even if we were unable to recover any data from the FDR we already have valuable data from the ACARS that can be compared with what can be heard on the CVR.

  8. There has also been some discussion as to how windshields are installed an d replaced – from the inside or from the outside. Short version meaning it might be possible the window(s) in the cockpit blew out due to faulty pats, assembly if normally installed – replaced from outside, versus an additional safety factor if installed from inside such as the arrangement of plug doors when closed.

    Who knows for sure ?? Boeing v Airbus design ?

  9. Germanwings Flight 4U9525 crashed in identical spot as 1953 air disaster in French Alps near Barcelonette.

    The Aviation Safety Network (ASN), has reported that in 1953 an Air France Lockheed L-749A Constellation went down near to Barcelonette – where scores of people are today feared to lay dead on the snowy slopes from the new tragedy.

    Of last century’s crash, the ASN wrote: “A Lockheed L-749A Constellation, F-BAZZ, was destroyed when it crashed into the side of Mont Le Cimet (3020 m), 80 km northwest of Nice, France.

    “All 33 passengers and nine crew members were killed. Among the passengers a famous French violinist, Jacques Thibaud.

    “The airplane had initiated its descent for Nice when it struck the mountainside. Investigators concluded that the flight had deviated from the planned course for unknown reasons.”


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