Above the Tearline: Reconstructing Air France Flight 447 Wreckage

MIN READApr 6, 2011 | 14:08 GMT

Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton discusses the deep-sea discovery of wreckage from the crash of Air France flight 447 and talks about reconstructing the wreckage to determine the cause of the crash.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

We've been following the June '09 crash of Air France flight 447 from Brazil to France, and this week, wreckage from the crash has been recovered. In February, we had reported on the deployment of the Woods Hole team to assist in the investigation of Air France flight 447. Woods Hole utilizes state-of-the-art submersible submarines that utilize sonar and sophisticated cameras to project those images back to the command post, as well as assist with the actual recovery of debris. Whenever you are doing an aircraft accident or man-made disaster investigation, you have to piece together the aircraft like a jigsaw puzzle and the more pieces of the wreckage, and bodies and luggage that you can recover, the better off you are. Your basic reconstruction consists of the four corners of the aircraft which would be the nose, the tail and the two wings, and in essence you reconstruct that aircraft inside a warehouse, literally like a jigsaw puzzle, placing the recovered debris in the appropriate spot from where the original aircraft existed. Once you have the pieces of the puzzle put together, you would be looking for a projection of blast effect pushing out on aircraft's skin, in essence if you think about the visual of sticking a pencil through a piece of paper you have the torn outward trajectory of the pencil going through the paper. If you have that kind of evidence it could be indicative of an improvised explosive device aboard the aircraft. It's been my experience that, contrary to what you hear in the media, the recovery of the black box will not help you determine whether or not there was an explosion aboard that aircraft. You'll be able to determine that based on the forensics of the wreckage recovered, as well as the bodies. For example, autopsies can be conducted on the lung tissue to determine whether or not there was an on board fire or any indication of smoke inhalation. Based on the Woods Hole sonar pictures, it appears the debris was spread over an area of 600 by 200 meters and it appears, just based on my observations that the plane landed somewhat intact. One of the most critical things for the investigators to do is to recover each and every part, in essence, to piece that together to make a complete picture of the jigsaw puzzle. That will be very telling and assist with determining exactly what occurred.
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