Computer Crash May Have Doomed Air France Flight

Crash raises questions on if today's pilots can cope with computer failure

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 27, 2009 4:15 AM CDT

(Newser) – Investigators trying to piece together the fate of Air France Flight 447 in the absence of its black boxes are focusing on possible computer failures, the Wall Street Journal reports. The evidence suggests a problem with the sensors quickly snowballed into widespread computer outages, leaving the crew struggling to manage without the automated systems on which modern pilots rely.

The crash is raising questions about how well today's pilots can cope without the computerized systems that completely control jets like the Airbus A330. Airplane computer failures are so rare that most pilots have little or no experience dealing with them in real-world situations, experts note. Investigators believe the crew of Flight 447 may have still been trying to restart the computers even as the plane began to break apart.

Systems failures are rare enough that pilots can be unprepared, but likely enough to pose a real threat, said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation.
Systems failures are "rare enough that pilots can be unprepared, but likely enough to pose a real threat," said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation.   (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Brazilian sailors recover debris from Air France Flight 447 from the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month. The crash killed all 228 people on board.
Brazilian sailors recover debris from Air France Flight 447 from the Atlantic Ocean earlier this month. The crash killed all 228 people on board.   (AP Photo/Brazil's Air Force, File)
Pieces of debris from Air France Flight 447 arrive at the port of Recife, Brazil earlier this month. Investigators believe it is increasingly likely that the flight recorders will never be found.
Pieces of debris from Air France Flight 447 arrive at the port of Recife, Brazil earlier this month. Investigators believe it is increasingly likely that the flight recorders will never be found.   (AP Photo/Brazil's Navy/HO)
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