Air Bus AF 447: Sorrow, lack of information and sensationalism

The French airbus that vanished from radar on Sunday on its way from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France, has caused much grieving, question marks and, of course, media speculation. Air France flight number AF 447 took off from Brazil on Sunday 31th of May with 216 passengers and 12 crew members and was expected to arrive at its destination the next day. It never arrived.

Picture by Mysid (Wikiedia Commons author), used under a public domain license.

Picture by Mysid (Wikiedia Commons author), used under a public domain license.

Authorities say 58 Brazilians were killed in the crash. But on some Brazilian blogs, the debate is about the media coverage of the disaster. For Leite de Cobra [pt], the way in which the non-arrival of the airbus and supposed disaster has been treated is outrageous:

Acho perverso isso da imprensa ficar divulgando fatos e particulares da vida das vítimas do desastre aéreo. Não têm o mínimo respeito e nem disfarçam o desejo de que a dor renda, em escala nacional, o máximo possível, até que venha a próxima catástrofe, o próximo escândalo. Ô corja! Por isso que não acompanho mais nada desse triste episódio. Pra mim deu

I think the media is perverse when releasing news and private information about the disaster victims’ lives. They don’t have the least respect for the victims and they don’t even conceal their desire that the pain lasts, in national proportions, as long as possible, until the next catastrophe, the next scandal, arrives. Oh vultures! That’s why I won’t follow anything else about this case. I've had enough!

According to bloggers, the problem is that the media always wants to report something and prove it right, come what may – creating theories and enhancing sensationalism. Camerini, from blog Transbrasil [pt], states:

Os experts de plantão já estão desfilando as baboseiras nas Tvs.

Falam e falam sobre o que ainda não passa de especulações, até Raios são culpados pela queda do AirBus da Air France !

É prematuro qualquer indicação sobre o acidente até que as equipes consigam, primeiro localizar os destroços do avião, depois a Caixa Preta, com o Data Recorder e o Voice Recorder, mas, como dá audiência levar para a Tv um bando de especialistas natos em acidentes aéreos, o que se pode fazer!

Ouvir um Chamar o avião da Air France de Boeing A 330, outro dizer que o Atlântico é o lugar mais seguro do sistema solar , depois outro que afirma categoricamente que um raio derrubou o avião!

A Verdade é que ninguém sabe ainda o que aconteceu, aonde aconteceu e como aconteceu, mas muitos especialistas deveriam saber que um acidente aéreo não ocorre apenas por uma só causa, e sim por mais fatores que desencadeam um acidente

The round the clock experts have already been talking a lot of rubbish on TV.

They have talked and talked about things that are just speculation. Even lightning has been blamed for the Air France plane crashing!

It’s too early to indicate anything about the accident until the rescue groups can first find the aircraft debris, and the black-box, with the data and voice recorders. But as bringing a bunch of naturally-born-specialists to TV attracts a large audience, what can be done!

I have heard one of them calling the Air France aircraft a Boeing A330, another one saying that the Atlantic Ocean is the safest place in the solar system, and then, another one emphatically affirming that lightning knocked the aircraft down!

The truth is that nobody knows what has happened, where it has happened and how it has happened, but many specialists should know that an air accident doesn’t happen for just one reason, but because of a series of factors which cause an accident.

For Eu, Você e Todo Mundo [pt], the desperate search for specialists is also a problem:

Gente, que absurdo!

Eu como jornalista fico indignada mesmooo!!! Aqui no Futura recebemos o e-mail de uma assessoria de Campinas falando de uma terapeuta holística que analisou a catástrofe desse acidente pela numerologia, tarô. Enfim, de acordo com o texto dela que vou colocar abaixo, essa catástrofe é efeito da conjunção de uma série de números ruins, energias negativas… pra mim é demais querer explorar uma tragédia como essa dessa maneira. Que vergonha… e ainda dos jornalistas que se propõem a divulgar isso! Vejam o absurdo:

Detalhe: não estou julgando a numerologia, mas o uso que está se fazendo dela nesse caso!

Guys, how absurd! As a journalist myself, I do indeed feel outraged!!! Here on the Futura channel we have received an e-mail from a PR office located in Campinas, in which a holistic therapist analyzed this catastrophe using numerology and taro. Anyway, according to that press release, the catastrophe is the result of a conjunction of factors such as bad numbers, bad feelings… I think it is just too much to explore such a tragedy in this way. What a shame…. Also shame on the journalists, who publish it! See absurd: I’m not judging the numerologist, but the way she has been used in this case.

With a very controversial comment which raises the much discussed issue that some disasters are considered more important and newsworthy than others according to the social class of those involved, Bruno Nepumoceno [pt] reached the following conclusion, after talking to people at work:

Fui dar minha opinião sobre o assunto e nego ficou me criticando, dizendo que eu não tenho coração, que eu sou insensível e coisas do tipo. A vontade que deu e de dizer: VOCÊS QUE SÃO BURROS OS SUFICIENTE PARA NÃO ENXERGAR QUE O JORNALISMO GANHA DINHEIRO EXPLORANDO A DESGRAÇA ALHEIA! Se fosse um ônibus cheio de nordestinos com a mesma quantidade de pessoas, o caso já teria caido no esquecimento.
Centenas morrem de fome no nordeste Brasileiro. O que é um aviãozinho cair?

I spoke my mind about the subject and the guys criticized me, saying that I am heartless, that I have no feelings for such news as this. In fact, what I wanted to say is the following: YOU ALL ARE STUPID ENOUGH NOT TO REALISE THAT THE MEDIA MAKES MONEY BY EXPLOITING OTHER PEOPLE'S MISFORTUNE! If it was a bus full of people from northeast [of Brazil], the case would have been forgotten. Thousands of people die of hunger on the African Continent. Hundreds die of hunger in the Brazilian Northeast. What is the big deal with a little aircraft crashing?
Photo by Flickr user Caribb published under a Creative Commons license

Photo of an Air France A330 by Flickr user Caribb published under a Creative Commons license

Nevertheless, there is an intense wave of grief and shock around the world, and naturally Brazilian bloggers are not the only ones discussing the accident online. From Kuwait, the blogger ZDistrict summed up his feelings.

228 people from Brazil to France on an Air France flight has vanished over the Atlantic after flying into turbulence. I haven’t seen a tragedy such as this in a long time, a flight of this type crashing in the middle of the Atlantic.

Charles, a commenter on ZDistrict has this to say:

Fear, helpless, horrific moment – it brings tears and heart ache to hear anyone enduring that final moment. Really hope they were all asleep during all that moments. Its over now, their faith bring them to where they belong.

Commenter Another Me states:

i’m so sad for the families. i fly frequently and can’t imagine what the passengers must have felt, not to mention the families. i also have an infant and that just breaks my heart to think of that innocent little baby, unaware of what’s happening. in my opinion, the governing international aviation athority (whoever that is) needs to restrict pilots from flying through or above thunderstorms, and require that they fly around all storms. those storms can reach upward of 50,000 ft; trying to fly above is just too risky.

Many times, air tragedies occurring over the Atlantic Ocean have been associated with the Bermuda Triangle, which is located north of Brazil, between Florida (USA), Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Still from Kuwait, Twitter user @2Twenty3 suggests that the “Bermuda triangle needs investigating”.

Cynthia Drescher, blogging at the Britannica Blog, says that the lack of information regarding the disaster will bring out conspiracy theorists, and many have alredy tried to link the crash with the Bermuda Triangle.

…[T]he skeptics would like to heighten the drama by associating the Bermuda Triangle with this recent mystery. What’s next — asserting that the Triangle is now some sort of giant trapezoid? Perhaps the mysterious area got bored with hanging out off the US coast and decided to journey to Brazil for some caipirinhas?
Although authorities haven’t yet confirmed that the floating seats are indeed from the missing Air France jet, it’s pretty easy to see on the map above that for once, this possible tragedy has nothing to do with aliens or electromagnetic fields or the ghost of Amelia Earhart. It does, however, have everything to do with freak accidents and airplane safety.

Not forgetting the Bermuda Triangle effect, Polish blog Tierra Incognita [pl], wonders what has happened, affirming that despite the  catastrophe of the disappearance, he stills loves flying:

Uwielbiam latać samolotem. Podróż lotnicza nie wywołuje u mnie żadnego stresu, wręcz przeciwnie – działa uspokajająco i relaksująco. W chwili gdy maszyna odrywa się od ziemi wpadam w specyficzny błogostan, mam wrażenie że wszystkie moje problemy i zmartwienia pozostały tam na dole. Świadomość, że przez najbliższe kilka godzin podróży będę w zupełnie innym wymiarze, gdzie w sumie nic ode mnie nie zależy, sprawia mi wielką frajdę. Jak dziecko, godzinami mogę gapić się przez okienko, nawet jeśli to czarna noc i widać tylko gwiazdy.

Zastanawiam się dlaczego ten właśnie wypadek aż tak bardzo wlazł mi pod skórę? Złożyło się na to pewnie kilka czynników – Air France jest jednym z moich ulubionych przewoźników, dosłownie kilkanaście dni temu odprowadzałem bliską przyjaciółkę na samolot lecący z Caracas do Paryża, a ja sam też na trasie Ameryka Południowa – Europa latam dość często. No i jeszcze ta tajemniczość tej katastrofy – nie żadne „tradycyjne” kłopoty przy starcie, bądź lądowaniu, ale zaginięcie gdzieś na środku oceanu. Dobrze, że przynajmniej nie nad Trójkątem Bermudzkim…

Na szczęście nie sądzę aby ten wypadek zmienił mój stosunek do latania. Nadal się cieszę, że prawdopodobnie jeszcze w tym miesiącu będę musiał kilka razy wsiąść do samolotu. I wciąż mam nadzieję, że jeszcze w tym roku uda mi się dolecieć samolotem do Księżyca…

I love flying on air planes. The air travel is not stressful to me at all, on the contrary – it relaxes me and calms me down. The moment the machine stops touching earth I get into a specific state of peacefulness, I have a feeling that all my problems and troubles are left below. The thought of being stuck for the next few hours in a completely different dimention where nothing really depends on me, is really cool. Like a kid, I can stare through the window for hours, even if its nighttime and all I can see is stars. I wonder why exactly this accident touched me so deeply? Probably there are a few reasons – Air France is one of my favourite companies, just a few days ago I walked my close friend for a flight from Caracas to Paris, and I myself very often travel on the line South America – Europe. And the whole mystery surrounding this catastrophe – not the ‘usual’ problems with take off or landing, but disappearance somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Good job it didn't happen over the Bermuda Triangle… Luckily I do not think that this accident will change my attitude towards flying. I am still happy that I will most probably have to sit  on a plane a few times this month. And I hope that this month too I will be able to catch the plane to the Moon.

Discussions and rumours have begun to focus not only on the strange weather patterns in the part of the Atlantic where the plane went down, but also on the computer systems on the Airbus A330-203. Specifically, some are investigating the coincidences between the Air France flight and an October 2008 Quantas flight headed for Perth, Australia that dropped 200 meters in a matter of minutes, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing. Others argue this incident is not relevant to the recent disaster. From Plane Talking, written by Ben Sandilands at Crikey Blogs in Australia.

It has been reported by The Aviation Herald, an online Europe based journal of aviation incidents and news that the main body of electronic alerts begin with the disengagement of the autopilot and were followed by messages related to the ADIRU or air data and inertial reference units and the PRIM or flight control primary computer which is informed about speed, attitude and other material flight values by the ADIRUs.
Superficially this resembles the onset of the mid air upset that caused Qantas flight QF72 from Singapore to Perth to make an emergency landing in Learmonth last October.
The PRIM will in some flight modes intervene in the flight controls settings of the jet to inhibit pilot inputs which would exceed critical limits which could stall the airliner, or overload parts of the structure or control surfaces on the wings or rudder.
However these limitations can also be in turn locked out by the pilot.
Other reports indicate that these ‘unprecedented’ messages were concentrated in a four minute period, ending with a final advisory message about the vertical speed, that is, the rate at which the jet was falling rather than any speed with which it was also moving forwards.
Faulty ADIRU units in the Qantas A330-300 operating the flight that diverted to Learmonth remain a major focus of an unfinished air accident investigation by the ATSB. That investigation is also looking at other ADIRU related incidents on Qantas A330s.
However the Qantas ADIRU units were made by Northrop Grumman, while those in the Air France jet were made by Honeywell, They are two completely different designs, running totally different sets of programmed logic to serve the same ends.

Most of the passengers whose lives were claimed by the crash were French: there were 61 French passengers and 11 French crewmembers. Charles-guy de Kerimel, the writer of the aviation history blog Des avions et des hommes expresses his condolences [fr] to the passengers and the crew of the Airbus A330-203.

L’annonce de cet accident me remplit de tristesse.
Le plus grave accident d’Air France, nous dit-on.
Indépendamment du nombre de victimes, pour chacun de ceux qui sont concernés la gravité est extrême, pour la victime bien sûr, mais aussi pour les parents, les amis, les collègues : ils se trouvent brutalement confrontés à une perte irrémédiable. Je m’associe à leur peine. Je songe au personnel d’Air France ; en premier lieu aux navigants, comme leurs aînés ils vont poursuivre leur tâche.

The announcement of this accident fills me with sadness.
This is Air France’s most serious accident, we are told…
Regardless of the number of victims, for each of those involved it is extremely serious for the victim, but also for parents, friends, colleagues: they are suddenly faced with an irreparable loss. I feel their pain. I think of the staff of Air France; first of Airmen, their elders as they continue their work.
Eustaquio Santimano/Creative Commons

"In loving memory of 228 passengers and crew of flight AF 447" by Flickr user Eustaquio Santimano, published under a Creative Commons License

John Liebhardt, Sylwia Presley and Sarita Moreira have collaborated with this post


  • I think this type of Journalism unfortunately is what we often get here in Brazil. The ‘Air France 447 flight’ tragedy media coverage has been so sensationalist that makes us really sad if it keeps going like this.

    I wonder if when they find the black-box and the data and voice recorders news reports are going to play the audio for the audience? That would be really disrespectful but I’m quite sure they’re going to do this…

  • Michael Franklin

    There is, of course, the issue of trust… and that leaves the media/press without much to work with. News is not reported for the sake of the people or information but for how much profit that can be generated from it. It should also be noted that in some societies, the media is a tool of government or corporate policy makers so… what gets printed is what is approved without regard to fact.

    In the end, AF447 was indeed a tragedy but we can only blame ourselves for what it has all become.

  • Oi Thiana,
    Muito Obrigado por suas palavras!
    Muito legal mesmo seu Blog!
    Vou colocar um Link no meu para direcionar ao seu blog!
    Parabéns por seu trabalho ai!
    Conte sempre com o amigo aqui no Brasil
    Julio Cesar

  • I totally agree with both of you. In my opinion, the Brazilian media should let the audience now about its interests each time they publish a information.

    In that case, as Michael said it is to sell. I think it’s understandable that papers, magazine and TV programs are business products. But, everything has a limit, even more when someone is talking about the lost of lives and the suffering of families. My condolences to all who lost someone in that tragedy.

  • ericka

    very interesting story – I hope we will find a way to value evaluations not just eyeballs so that this kind of thing does not continue

  • Money, capitalism the idea of profit forces companies (airlines in this case) to reduce costs and increase risks (in this case to flying passengers)! It’s simple!

  • There is a wonderful post (in Portuguese) by Brazilian journalist Ana Carolina Moreno, in which she says that we are the real vultures – we feed the media with our interest in this type of coverage. After all, we are those who buy newspapers, who watch TV, who click on links with a “juicy” headline. We search the information and find it.

    I will translate an excerpt here:

    “You, who don’t give a shit to very serious matters, but then tries to mobilize the blogosphere with a campaign against the telephone operator that mistreated you.

    You who know the name of the single crew member who had Brazilian nationality. You who criticized that there would soon be news pieces about the passengers who would take this flight, but for various reasons were spared. And then after you read this story from beginning to end. I am afraid to say, but in this case the journalists are not vultures. You are the vultures who outsource their work searching for sordid details to which you are so attracted. It is time for everyone to start taking their responsibility.

    Would you like to solve this problem? The key word is this: boycott. Do not buy newspaper. Read only online news on politics, culture, or you can even read about your soccer team. But do not click on the newspaper’s headlines. Make the most clicked headlines of your favorite news website be clear of “Air France”. On the coffee break, if anybody mentions the accident, change the subject, rather than repeat what you have just read, often with wrong information (because journalistic rigour is only applied to journalists, the grapevine is exempt, right?)”.

    Read it all in Portuguese:

    • Will

      Paula makes an unusual, unique and interesting point. Humans are fascinated by the macabre, the sensational – tragedy, violence and mayhem. This might be especially so when it comes so swiftly and suddenly and in an unforeseen manner.

      Many layers of technology and advancement have distanced us, but not removed us at all, from the shared human things which we all are as a society; the bonds forged out of our natural instincts which we now call something else. One could no more ask our fellow human beings, confronted by the knowledge of a massive threat to our society, to shut it off by boycotting a newspaper. Beneath that boycott will always rest the basic human need to know what happened to that plane, what happened to those passengers on the Titanic, what happened to the hunters who left our cave never to return.
      It is the basic mystery of life at the very essence of our civilization.
      Who do we detest for asking? Oursevles.

  • A. Wilkinson

    Speculation is often one of the most important tools used by investigators who peform multiple “what if” scenarios as an aid to finding the ultimate truth surrounding an aviation accident. You are right in observing the macabre interest shown by the media in the “what if” speculations of those who are investigating this catastrophe, however, there is another important reason for the interets in this case. The fact that a seemingly “perfect” safety record for this aircraft was demolished over the open ocean in such a horrific way sits at the core of a very basic fear that permeates the sub-conscience of those who fly often. That is the fear of puting ones life in the hands of technology.
    Untill this accident is fully explained, the entire frequent flying world will be warily observing the progress of this investigation, while at the same time making every effort to supress those deep hidden fears.

  • The comments so far are revealing and I feel compelled to add mine in order to get at the ultimate truth in these days when there are rapid surge waves of persistent changes in weather, even rapid change in an instant, significantly more than before. See therefore my read on the three air crashes in June and July of 2009 at
    The upshot of my research is that the design basis of envelopes of the aircraft and of other structures in general- like railways and metro bridges are beginning to be exceeded with significant frequency due to excessive instantaneous cumulative electrical load demand being placed on hydrogenerators occurring in heavily dammed regions. Also in the monsoon by rapid changes of water masses behind such dams- see that rainfall on the Indian Subcontinent was sudden and like an impulse function on July 14 2009 and July 15 2009 which resulted in a major earthquake on 15th July near New Zealand in a familiar location during the dam era. This calls immediately for the application of the precautionary principle and stop flights through local intertropical convergence or divergence regions until the matter is settled by deliberations among all knowledgable sections of society, expert and otherwise. It is absolutely necessary in view of research results indicating non-tectonic causes for many many earthquakes and hotspots.

  • Tail of Airbus A330 made out of composite material like plastic. It is not durable as aluminum, simple crack may cause it to broke off in harsh turbulence. It happen once before in New York. Air France try to hide it now, they occupy all families of victims with their lawyers, families will get 10% of what they should to get or even less, and no investigation will be made other then Air France ones. It’s sad that other people now in great danger of flying those airplanes from Airbus. Airbus French based company, probably owned by same people as Air France. Euros rules, isn’t they? How many more people have to die?

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