Sunday, July 11, 2010

Air France, Again

How often are bomb threats called in to airlines? Hard to say, but when the bomb threat is on the same route as a mysterious crash over the Atlantic that has yet to be conclusively explained it's a bit more interesting than normal...
A spokesman for Air France in Brazil said the bomb threat was phoned in to Rio's international airport by a female voice about 30 minutes after the plane took off.

The control tower contacted the jet and the decision was made to land in Recife, the Air France spokesman said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

The spokesman said authorities had not found any explosives and the jet was expected to be cleared to continue to Paris.

However, Infraero, in an early Sunday statement, said the plane had yet to be cleared and that passengers were being taken to hotels until the jet was ready to continue, indicating it was unlikely to resume its flight to Paris until Sunday morning.
This may be nothing, of course. People have been known to call in bomb threats when running late to delay the plane so they can catch it. At any rate, four days before ill-fated AF 447 took off there was a bomb threat, but to a flight originating in Buenos Aires. Air France is not likely to give up the frequency of such threats so bloggers can speculate as to normality, but in hindsight it's too bad they haven't found the black boxes on 447 so theories such as this can be put to rest:
Oil stains found among the debris of doomed Air France Flight A447 could prove the plane was not blown out of the sky by terrorists, Brazil's defence minister said today.

If a bomb had exploded on board the Airbus 330-200 the plane's fuel would have burned away, he said.

And with more debris from the jet carrying 228 people being found scattered over a 55-mile area, he said it was looking more likely that the plane broke apart in the air.
That's assuming the theoretical bomb would have blown up the fuel tanks rather than say an explosive device in the luggage compartment ripping the fuselage at a critical time in high-altitude flight, causing a gradual breakup. Still, the weather-related instrument malfunction scenario seems most likely based on media reports but it would be nice to get some closure one way or the other. Accident post-mortems are designed for learning and changing but if they never officially come out it's kind of hard to respond.

MORE 7/11/10

According to this Fox report the plane was searched and they found nothing. Then it says they are still checking the luggage. Here's a story with AP video of the search. The explanation about crew rest sounds plausible as does the fact they didn't fly in another plane to pick up the stranded passengers (in case one of them was a suspect). Air France has no scheduled service from Recife, meaning they wouldn't have other aircraft sitting around to commandeer.

The aircraft was a Boeing 747-400, with 405 passengers. It's mildly interesting that the AP story used in many US publications did not identify the type, while the AFP (French story) had no trouble pointing out the fact it wasn't an Airbus.

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