Air France Flight 447 – Google Earth Map

Yesterday I decided to check the Google Earth Community to see what kind of maps had been created for the location of the crash site of Air France Flight 447. There’s an active thread on the crash in the Current Events forum. There are several useful maps like this one by ‘rafaelds‘ which shows the approximate flight, when radar contact was lost, and the position when the last signal was received.
The map I found most useful to explaining what probably happened to Air France 447 is this image overlay of a weather map at the time of the crash (post by ‘smokeonit’ who is a GEB regular).

Map of Flight 447 crash location and weather

Download the maps and zoom in a bit to see the weather conditions the plane decided to go through. Dark on a radar map like this is very bad weather. The pilot of Flight 447 took the plane through the absolute worst part of a very big storm. He had radar and could have diverted. The question is, why didn’t he divert around it? My condolences to the families of those lost in Flight 447. [UPDATE: GEB reader 'Alex' left a comment about some analysis of the weather system. It appears some reports did not show the bad weather, and analysis shows it developed suddenly. Further, the area the pilot flew through may have been a collapsing megacell which appeared safe up until the moment they went through. It can be hard to predict mother nature!]

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D graphics for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank left in 2009 to circumnavigate the earth by sailboat as part of the Tahina Expedition.



Comments

  1. smokeonit says:

    i feel deeply honored that you mention my GE overlay;)
    if it weren’t for this tragedy… my condolences to the families or the crew and passengers. The families must have gone thru hell waiting & hoping all those long days, clinging to every little straw of hope as news came in, good & bad, bad & good & finally very bad…;(((
    I hope this forever changes how airlines have to store/transmit their flight data/parameters!
    The penny pinchers @ the airlines have to stand back and allow for 24h/365 days data connections to and from the planes, effectively mirroring the flight data, and hopefully transmitting more flight parameters than is actually stored on the FDR (“Black Box”)… This should become obligatory for all planes & helicopters, then it would/will become so cheap that even 3rd world countries will be able to afford this…
    In the media it was mentioned that this would create huge databases… this is bull…! even the cockpit voice recorder stream could be a low bandwidth friendly 24kbit/sec (enough audio quality to be able to analyze the full audio spectrum in case of a crash and the need to search for telltale sounds), up-to-date end-user satellite data connections handle from 2.0Mbit up to 72 Mbit/sec downstream (live TV worldwide possible anywhere) & 16kbit to 384 Kbit upstream. The ConneXXXion by Boeing proved that in-flight high speed data everywhere on the planet doesn’t have to be wishful thinking… even though Boenig didn’t have enough satellites to cover more than the Pacific & Atlantic routes. If this happens there will be enough satellites to cover every last spot on earth;)

  2. Hi Frank, as a pilot you may be interested in a very detailed meteorological analysis by Tim Vasquez of Weather Graphics http://www.weathergraphics.com/tim/af447/
    Ciao !

  3. Florent Guignard says:

    It would be much more cheaper for Air France / AirBus if it was a meteorological fault !
    Anyway, thanks for the map to the creator and the publisher.

  4. Stephen says:

    My condolonences to all and prayers for the brave still working the search! And great work putting the pieces together!
    The path shown, and obvious alternate paths present what an intense and difficult decision would be presented to the captain. And one would have to think that operations weighed to help define the final decision to be made (alternate, preferred, and shortest). Which sometimes goes beyond the captains capabilities.
    The heatmap shows the command decisions the captain would have had to think about if he had clarity. By measuring alternate paths as go arounds to the east or western edges of the storm, the captain chose the direct and quickest across (150miles) instead of alternates (300-500miles off shortest(if one measures linearly using the scale).
    One would think that operations would be consulted to help determine the time, the fuel use regarding the storm, which resulted in equipment being pushed to the furthest most limits by using the shortest and quickest.
    GPS is good, and wings require air pressure sensors for velocity measurement, but when a captain doesn’t make clear operational choice, all decisions become risky regardless of equipment. Poor command decisions yield ruthless and complacent results.

  5. Armin K. says:

    concerning the question: “why didn’t he divert around it [the big storm]?”
    I’ve seen the animated weather map and experts stated the plane didn’t fly into, but rather was engulfed by developing storms around him, which merged into a mega cell.

  6. smokeonit says:

    not to forget that a couple of other airliners passed this area with no incident a few minutes to hours earlier and later…!
    2 lufthansa airliners passed by earlier, the globo airliner a little later…

  7. The heatmap shows the command decisions the captain would have had to think about if he had clarity.

  8. g stove says:

    I don’t think it’s very helpful for someone to post “why didn’t he divert around it?” It sounds a bit like the crew were somehow at fault or willfully made a mistake.
    It’s a bit early to assume the crew could have avoided the terrible situation they found themselves in.

  9. . . . Just to add. . .
    Google earth is a great resource but there certainly isn’t enough information in that overlay to make any assessment about the crews actions or options they had available to them.

  10. Smokeonit says:

    Gstove: I agree that questions or assumptions about the flight path and if that that decision was right or wrong is not ok. From what I’ve read so far it seems that other pilots didn’t divert from their chosen route & that the storm cell developed rather quickly. On top the weather radar might not have given the pilot an accurate picture, and those radars built into the planes nose are very directional, straight forward looking. To me it seems that a huge strom band like the one from that night, approx. a few hundred miles wide, a hundred miles deep, and up to 65,000 feet high, didn’t give the pilot much choices. And the weather services did NOT issue an alert and even today everyone says it was a regular occurence, NOT a freak storm system.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if a technical glitch or fatal failure occurre between 0200Z & 0215Z. Then a chain of events took place that even the best pilots were not able to overcome.
    There were 3 pilots onboard! The captain had much more than 20k hours, the co-pilots 3k & 6k hours, even 3k hours is a lot! All pilots were well trained and if they somehow reacted the wrong way any other pilot on our planet would have.
    We can only hope that the flight data recorder will be recovered from its’ present depth of approx. 4,000 to 5,500 meters. A French nuclear u-boot arrived today with extended listening hardware in order to locate the R/F emergency beacon. 9 days of the max. 30 days battery lifehave already been used, now it’s a race against the clock. If the black box is not recovered this horrible accident might not be fully understood. If they find it and the European & American investigative aviation experts figure it out, which will/would prevent this from happening again, it would give the families some sort of comfort since the death of their loved ones will not be in vain!

  11. Frank Taylor says:

    @ smokeonit: Nice comments! Thanks for taking the time to put the situation into perspective…

  12. Ground the Airbus?
    Used in law, science and philosophy, a rule known as Occam’s Razor requires that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex, and/or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities.
    We do not know if Air France Flight 447 was brought down by a lightning storm, a failure of speed sensors, rudder problems or pilot error. What we do know is that its plastic tail fin fell off and the plane fell almost seven miles into the ocean killing everyone aboard.
    Article at Consortium News: http://consortiumnews.com/2009/062009a.html
    Article at Global Research:http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14025

  13. This was a great tradgedy. I don’t think we can really find out what happend from that though.

  14. Most recent analysis reveals that pilot did not divert because he could not, The plane did not have enough fuel reserves to divert from course. The pilot did this intentionally with the consent of Air France. The plane entered a flat spin due to loss of flying speed. This just means that the plane stopped flying forward and instead just fell, but not in a nose dive. This flat spin, or stall, caused by ice on its pitot tubes which are the devices that gave the flight computer wrong air speed information. The design of this pitot tube used on this airplane is faulty and apparently only designed for lower altitudes than the plane flies. Also, Airbus design does not allow the pilot to shut the computer off in an emergency such as this so that the pilots can manually control the flight angles, etc. Also, Air France does not train its pilots how to control the plane with the loss of the computer. Pilots could only watch as plane dropped for four minutes like a pancake. They were unable to reboot the flight computer. It would have been fairly quiet in the plane since the cruise air noise would have stopped. Instead of traveling horizontally at nearly 600 mph, the plane fell flat but in a vertical path at 95 mph. The aircraft and everyone onboard hit the ocean at that speed. Still enough velocity to tear everything to shreds instantaneously as all the mass reached zero velocity in just a foot or so. Like smacking the water with the flat of your hand at 95 miles per hour. Of course here, the flat is a huge aircraft with long wings and fuselage.

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