Unless you have totally managed to avoid the media for the last two days, you will no doubt have witnessed the atrocious scenes that have taken place nearby Nice, towards the French Alps. An Airbus A320-200 aircraft flying under Germanwings, Flight 9525, was taking 150 people (including 6 crew) across from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany. The aircraft, however, never made it to Germany as it crashed 100 km to the north-west of Nice.
Tragically, every crew member and passenger aboard the flight perished. This horrible event has obviously spread a huge amount of discussion over the global news, with social media in particular being where many people first found out about this horrible event.
Although the event is still raw and investigations are still ongoing, there are lots of snippets of information being released all the time. The vast majority of the information has come from the official sources involved in the crash itself, but there are many theories that are deviating around the web at the moment. With plane crashes and aviation disasters becoming a recurring theme over the last few years, it’s not surprising that many theories have grown legs across the last 48 hours about what caused the aircraft to crash.
At the time of writing, the black box that is held within the cockpit is currently being investigated to see if any information can be obtained about what was the cause of the crash. Was there a mechanical fault? Or is there something else that occurred during the flight to bring it down?
Whilst it will probably be a few days until the entire picture is known about the aircraft and the events that surround this horrible event, the theories built upon the small amounts of information that have been released won’t stop coming out. For example, the recent New York Times piece that was released late on the 25th March that claims that one pilot was locked out of the cockpit prior to the aircraft going down.
News has come from investigators that the aircraft, despite flying through relatively clear skies, was only flying with one pilot prior to the crash as one had been locked out and unable to get back into the cockpit prior to exiting. So, what is the story so far with this latest horrible aircraft tragedy?
The Crash Itself
The aircraft, Flight 9525, took from Runway 07R from the El Prat Airport in Barcelona at 10:01CET. The flight was supposed to arrive in Dusseldorf Airport in Germany at 11:39CET, but it never arrived. The Direction generale de l’aviation civile – DGAC – are the governing authority on all things French in the aviation industry and declared that the aircraft was in immediate distress. This was signaled by the fact that the aircraft lost contact with the center, and the loss of radio contact with the aircraft set alarm bells ringing even further at the DGAC.
Having reached a cruise speed of 430kn and an altitude of approximately 38,000ft at around 10:27 CET, the aircraft remained on course for the next period of time. They reached a speed of around 515kn three minutes later at approximately 10:30CET. At this same time, the pilots relayed instructions back to traffic control and proceeded on with the flight. However, at 10:31CET, the aircraft chose to make a slight correction to the flight course, and left the assigned cruising altitude without any prior approval, and began to make a rapid descent straight down.
On average, it’s estimated by radar that the descent rate was 17.8m/s, or 3,500ft per minute. Any attempts to make contact with the flight from the traffic control via assigned radio frequencies were left unanswered. From the Orange Air Base, a Mirage fighter jet scrambled to try and intercept the plane to find out what was going on. Radar contact was lost at 10:40CET, with around 6,175ft of altitude left.
The most concerning fact was that whilst the aircraft made the 38,000ft descent in around 10 minutes – which is pretty fast – it made no claims to show that the aircraft had been damaged in any way whilst going down. The aircraft eventually crashed 62mi north-west of Nice towards Prads-Haute-Bleone, a remote French commune.
At this time, the reason for descent is still unknown. It’s the most serious air disaster to occur on French soil since the Inex Adria Aviopromet Flight 1308 that crashed in 1981. In that crash, 180 people perished. It was also the first major crash to have occurred on a civil airline in France since the Concorde crash that occurred near Paris in 2000.
This crash is also the first loss of a Lufthansa-owned airliner whilst it has been in the cruising phase of the flight process.
The investigation has taken place in a swift and decisive manner, as you might expect. Due to the fact that this was a flight carrying people from different nationalities, it was very important to start working out whom the casualties were from the aircraft to inform their loved ones and families. Of course, these things take time – the investigation into the reasons for the crash – are still ongoing but the fatalities have been announced already.
The investigation is being carried out by joint task force sent by the BEA and the BFU, the French and German counterparts for aircraft accidents investigations. Both parties carried out a quick and diligent review of the crash scene. The BEA sent seven members of an investigation team along with CFMI and Airbus delegates to review the damage done by the crash.
During the investigation, the cockpit voice recorder was recovered by the investigation team who were recovering parts of the crash for data. It was discovered to be in a useable condition still, and photographs were released by the BEA; the group were also able to extract the voice recordings from the tap to help decipher what has actually gone on, and what caused the crash in the first place.
Amongst much of the data that has been recovered from the crash, one of the most significant pieces of data to come out has been the route, altitude and times of the final descent of the aircraft. The Interior Minister for France, Bernard Cazeneuve, announced that the most likely hypothesis that were being worked with were far away from the terrorism angle that many had feared at first. With terror attacks becoming a more regular occurrence across the globe, the initial fear for many had turned to the prospect of this being an act of terror.
The investigation, though as been updated on the 25th May to reveal some further details about what could have occurred. One of the pilots was locked out from the cockpit, and has been trying to break down the door to retake control of the situation and save the aircraft. By starting off with first a light knock, the pilot received no response and proceeded to try and take the door down as the aircraft made it’s descent.
The response from around the world has been one of shock – Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately made her way to the crash site with a German delegation, and arrived on the 25th March. French PM Valls and Spanish PM Rajoy both arrived as well to provide support.
It has been described as the “darkest day in its 60-day history” by Lufthansa Chief Exec. Carsten Spohr. Flights were cancelled under the Germanwings banner due to people not wishing to fly. The events of the last two days aren’t clear yet, as more information is needed to understand what happened totally, but the theories have already started to gather across the web as people try to work out just what occurred as the evidence continues to be found.
As you can imagine, the theories on what has occurred have raged on since the aircraft has crashed and the information about the flight has started to come out. An early part of the theory that arrived was along the lines of the infamous SilkAir Flight 185 crash, which was due to one of the aircraft pilots locking the other out and driving the aircraft into the ground. The theories which have put around are obviously hard to conclude because nothing has been confirmed yet by those investigating the black box and other features of the aircraft, but the theories have varied massively including things like;
A combination of factors such as mechanical errors, pilot error, decompression etc. are one of the most common early theories. The rate of descent as well as how quickly everything changed was backed up initially by a theory of the pilots being knocked unconscious by a decompression, but the recordings that were discovered help to disprove that theory in some ways
Terror hijackings have obviously been mentioned by people of various mindsets across the world since the aircraft happened; unfortunately, in 2015 terror attacks seem to sound as likely as a mechanical failure to many people. The terror one was quashed fairly quickly by the French authorities, though, and whilst “all options are being considered” according to the Interior Minister it’s hard to believe that this is an act of terror if the flight recordings are anything to go by
Pilot mistakes are one of the most believable theories in all crashes because human error in control of such a vast piece of hardware is easy to imagine. It could be anything from the pilot not realizing autopilot has been turned off to failing to recognize one problem because of another. However, these kinds of changes to such drastic levels would be almost impossible for a pilot to notice and would most likely be impossible to happen purely by not paying attention or genuine error; very few pilot errors can cause such a rapid and consistent descent
The idea that the aircraft has malfunctioned is another popular theory as it’s the most likely “normal” reason for an aircraft crashing. However, the A320 is regarded by many as one of the safest aircraft in the whole world. Whilst it will take some time to investigate the aircraft crash scene and discover if anything has occurred in terms of failures, other A320 flights have suffered from this in the past. Recently, an aircraft dropped a massive 4,000ft in just one minute before stabilizing and making a recovery in the skies
All issues were resolved with the aircraft one hour prior to taking off, though, and the indications during the descent pointed to the aircraft having suffered from no serious damage to key components; this would make the chances of the aircraft malfunctioning and coming down in this fashion a lot more unlikely. Again, though, everything is up in the air at the moment until the black box and other components can be looked into more in-depth.
At the moment, the reasons for the crash are effectively a mystery; as theories fly around from the believable (all of the above) to the obscene (look on forums about conspiracies!) will make it this explosive news topic for the days to come. Until some genuine answers can be found about what caused the aircraft to come down, and an official explanation can be provided to help people understand what has happened in the skies on the 24th March, the only thing we have at the moment are theories and suggestions from people of ranging authority and credibility!
The most explosive detail that has come out since, though, is about the pilot being locked outside of the cabin. Due to the way it is being described by news outlets, it seems to not have been a situation that was either or planned or prepared for in any way; until we know what happened to the pilot inside the cockpit, though, everything is completely up for debate. Was the other pilot locked out? Did anything malfunction on the aircraft? We’ll be sure to keep you regularly updated.
We'd love to hear your theories in the comments section below.