We might never know what brought down Air France Flight 447 early today, but aviation expert Miles O’Brien believes it was either an exceptionally unlikely event or a series of cascading failures, he writes for True/Slant. A lightning strike, widely reported as a factor, could only have sent the Brazil-Paris flight into the Atlantic if it had triggered a fuel fire—something that hasn’t happened in the US in 42 years.
It is likely, however, that the Airbus A330—which has never suffered a crash in airline service—was hit by lightning, which knocked out its vulnerable radar system. The veteran crew, scrambling to deal with flying blind in heavy turbulence, could then have blundered into fatally rough weather. “Even today’s advanced—seemingly invincible—airliners are no match for Mother Nature on a bad night,” O’Brien writes. “If a big airplane ends up in the teeth of a powerful thunderstorm, it could be torn to pieces in an instant.”