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Germanwings Alps Plane Crash: Possible Causes

17.2k12
Last updated Sat, 02 May 2015 11:41:04 GMT
Originally posted on Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:13:53 GMT

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.

Debris on mountainside

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.


Wreckage

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

French Authorities: GendarmerieThe 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.  

The Theories

Wreckage showing windows from planeAs 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. 

Last recorded video of aircraft

We'd love to hear your theories in the comments section below.

Ian Stephens

About Ian Stephens

Ian Stephens is a Flight Simulation enthusiast with a keen interest in aviation and technology. He has been writing for Fly Away Simulation for over 9 years.

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12 comments

Leave a Response
Nigel ClinningThu, 26 Mar 2015 12:05:50 GMT

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32063587

graham phippsThu, 26 Mar 2015 12:56:13 GMT

I cannot understand how? the pilot lockout issue, could leek from the inspection room in france, surely, nothing would be said until they are sure of the facts.

Bob GregoryThu, 26 Mar 2015 12:57:05 GMT

See

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixEHV7c3VXs

Flight Deck Security Door opening procedure.

JoostThu, 26 Mar 2015 12:59:00 GMT

Your story is a bit to early. As it seems now 26th, the captain was locked out and the co-pilote deliberatly switched off teh AP and pushed a button for descend. He was apperently "breathing" normal.

Hector R Partidas RThu, 26 Mar 2015 14:37:11 GMT

Before learning about the copilot allegedly crashing the plane on purpose this morning I had several questions: 1. The supposed route was DALIN UN870 SOSUR UM976 SOFFY UQ208 GIGUS UQ216 IBERA UN853 ARCKY UT853 IBESA T853 NOR T857 BIKMU. 2. The path shows that they were following the route but at SOSUR they were supposed to turn left to 014 heading to follow the M976 to SOFFY which is about 30NM ahead. Instead, they kept their actual 045 heading. It is not known whether this was requested to Marseilles CTR. About 3' after passing SOSUR they reached TOC FL380. I suppose they contacted Marseilles CTR. At that time they were about 8 NM off course. I don't know if the CTR advised them about it. 3. Three minutes after reaching TOC the plane entered in an apparently controlled descent at 1600 fpm during the first minute at 480 GS but then on the second minute the ROD increased to 3600 fpm with the same GS. However, during the third minute the ROD decreased to 1300 fpm with 300 GS. (Was this an attempt to control de plane?). But after that, in the three following minutes the ROD and GS were approximately 3100 fpm and 240 GS and the last two minutes the ROD was about 4200 fpm while the GS was in excess of 600 Kts. 4. At the first, I could think of a catastrophic control failure of the fly by wire system based on: a. There was never an attempt to alter the heading to the nearby Marseilles airport, some 25 NM to the left . b. During the whole dive the plane maintained the heading that they had since DIBER. c. I did not thought of one pilot in the cockpit because after reaching TOC there are several tasks that need to be done by both pilots. But maybe 3 minutes were enough.

My main question is to know if the Marseilles CTR was aware of the detour from SOSUR or they authorized it. So, it is very important to hear those tapes also.

HatemThu, 26 Mar 2015 16:14:42 GMT

There are few assumptions :

1- The pilot may have gone unconscious. But in that case how come the autopilot has been set by itself into a decent mode. It is not unlikely to happen such two rare events in same time.

2- The pilot may have initiated decent in an attempt to suicide.

3- The pilot went unconscious and bent over the stick and pushed it forward and though it forced the plane nose downside. But I think such situation will not make constant decent rate.

What promotes these assumptions is that the plane went into almost constant decent rate until impact. In uncontrolled decent, the plane will not remain in same decent rate from 38000 ft to 6100 ft.

George RockThu, 26 Mar 2015 18:11:55 GMT

Please, you use only UTC Time for aviation.

WillThu, 26 Mar 2015 19:44:01 GMT

I feel that this sad event has now become entertainment, presided over by this site - this is unacceptable and an insult to all the grieving families involved.

The person who is "reporting" this event obviously is an amateur, wanting to turn it all into a game, his grammar and spelling certainly do not inspire confidence in his ability to preside over this "game".

Please leave it to the investigators and please show some respect.

ArtThu, 26 Mar 2015 21:08:51 GMT

Apparently the co-pilot drove it into the ground. ISIS? Taliban? Just nuts???

Barry MaurerThu, 26 Mar 2015 21:11:23 GMT

I don’t make suppositions or indulge in hypothesis of any kind while post-crash investigations are in progress. The question I have is why the “knee jerk” reactions we are seeing regarding the airlines now adopting the procedure of having at least 2 “crew” in the cockpit / control cabin at all times. I understand the logic of this but what disturbs me is who will this supernumerary crew member be? Will they be aircrew – that is to say pilots (and if so how qualified and experienced in total time and on type). If it’s be a flight attendant then there is little point (all due respect acknowledged for their work and dedication) as eventually you could end up with all sorts of disastrous outcomes, physical imbalance, incapacity in terms of specific flight ability, terrorists / or suicidal person infiltrating cabin staff to await the opportunity to position themselves for sole control of the aircraft, etc. etc. etc. If passengers are to want continual flight safety improvement in air transportation then increased cost in tickets should be accepted as their investment in this, such would be the cost of provision of additional qualified pilots to ensure that the flight has the benefit of always having the correct complement of competent aircrew in the cockpit. Any pilot with grey hair will tell you there has been many occasions when they alone have been the only link in the chain ensuring the successful outcome of a flight where there were only two crew controlling / monitoring the flight.

Diego L DagninoFri, 27 Mar 2015 18:49:44 GMT

Is there any exact repaint for a free add-on model? I already have the earlier livery with the yellow tail in Proyect Airbus A320-200 CFM model. I saw one A320-211 with the actual livery but for FS2000... I need one FSX compatible.

WilliamSat, 11 Apr 2015 23:45:09 GMT

If the media already spread out their possible cause of the accident presented as the most "popular" and the people massively bought it, who cares about the future investigation, Airbus and Lufthansa are free of responsibility.

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