Mientras no se tengan datos fiables proporcionados por las autoridades aeronáuticas francesas y la compañía Air France, no realizaremos ninguna valoración ni comentario sobre la desaparición del Airbus A330 de la compañía Air France, vuelo AF447, en la madrugada del pasado lunes 1 de junio sobre el océano Atlántico mientras volaba desde Río de Janeiro a París.
No obstante, sí publicaremos toda información que consideremos de interés para nuestros lectores y las valoraciones y análisis realizados por expertos en la materia.
Así, en este artículo presentamos el análisis meteorológico realizado por el meteorólogo Tim Vásquez en la página web http://www.weathergraphics.com/ sobre las condiciones a las que pudo hacer frente el avión.
Publicamos algunas figuras y las conclusiones, en inglés, extraídas del informe. Para acceder al estudio completo pinchar aquí.
Gráfico 1: Ruta del AF447
Gráfico 2: Condiciones meteorológicas en superficie
Gráfico 3: Detalle de la imagen infrarroja proporcionada por el satélite
The satellite imagery indicates that numerous cumulonimbus towers were rising to at least 51,000 ft, and were embedded in extensive stratiform anvils with tops of 35,000 to 45,000 ft. This kind of configuration is actually quite normal for equatorial storms due to the higher tropopause height, but it emphasizes that the aircraft was certainly within the bulk of an extensive cumulonimbus cloud field for a significant amount of time and that storms could indeed have been a contributing factor to the crash.
I've edited this section Monday night to cut down on the speculation about the accident chain, especially since I don't know a whole lot about A330 systems. The airliners.net board and other sites cover the aircraft and CRM systems quite well. What I will try to do, however, is summarize what the aircraft probably encountered based on the data and my own experience.
Turbulence: Turbulence is a definite candidate as a contributing factor. There is an isolated storm at (1.6,-31.5) that appears suddenly at 0200Z just as the A330 enters the main MCS cluster. From a turbulence perspective it is by far the most dangerous formation found on the loop. However it is 10-25 km to the left of UN873 and it is doubtful the crew would have been deviating at this time. Other cells like this one embedded within the main MCS may have caused severe turbulence. Young updrafts are particularly dangerous to flights because they contain significant rising motion yet precipitation fields have not yet fully developed and airborne radar signatures are weak, reducing the likelihood the crew will deviate around the cell. Another concern is the extensive upper-level dry air shown on the SBFN sounding (not counting the anvil debris at 350-300 mb), which may have contributed to enhanced evaporative cooling in and around the anvil and aggravated the turbulence experienced by the flight, especially around the margins of anvil clouds and towers. It is worth considering that cumulative periods of heavy turbulence crossing through the cluster may have caused minor internal damage that progressed in some way into an emergency.
Icing: With a flight level temperature of -43 deg C suggested by the proximity sounding the A330 would have been flying mostly in rime ice and possibly some clear ice and graupel. At -43 deg C, water cannot exist even in supercooled form (see here for an explanation). The equivalent potential temperature throughout the profile is absolutely insufficient to bring warmer air with supercooled water to flight level. Without the supercooled water there is very little ice buildup on the airframe. My conclusion is that unless the plane descended below FL300 icing would not be the culprit.
Lightning: Due to the high cloud tops and freezing level at 16,000 ft, there was extensive precipitation by cold rain process and it is likely the MCS was electrified. Lightning of course being considered with good reason since the A330 is one of the most computerized and automated airliners in service. I will say based on my 25 years of meteorology the storms were almost definitely producing lightning. As far what a strike would do to the A330, I have to leave that to to the avionics experts. Some answers might be found at http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/.
Precipitation: A dual engine flameout due to precipitation or ice ingestion is a noteworthy possibility as has been discussed on other sites (specific to the A330 type too). The precipitable water content in any tropical weather system can run very high. However a rain-induced flameout is not possible because supercooled water cannot exist at the -43C cruise altitude and insufficient equivalent potential temperature exists, even in updraft cores, to bring warmer air beyond a few degrees change to the flight level. Therefore the plane at FL350 was completely within some mixture of rime ice, graupel, or small hail. But again, as the link indicates, even ice poses risks to the engine.
Hail: I got a few comments about hail. I am not entirely convinced that structural hail damage is a factor, partly because I can't recall hearing much about large damaging hail at altitude in my experience with equatorial flight operations. This would require strong instability, which I'm not yet sure we have, not only to grow the stones but to loft large hailstones from the embryo "nursery" at FL200-250 up to flight level. A value of 1000 J/kg CAPE is really on the fence but not out of the question. The other problem is the mounting body of evidence (see SPC studies) suggesting well-sheared storms (this profile is poorly sheared) are the ones conducive to structures that support hail growth. Finally, another issue is airborne radars are be highly sensitive to hail because of the very high backscatter values of ice, making evasive action likely, and the "young updrafts" I pointed out earlier as a threat would not have provided the residence times necessary yet to contain hailstones; their main threat would be severe turbulence. I am not sure about the hail hypothesis, but I believe there is a high probability of graupel, small ice pellets, or small hail at FL350 in the storm complex (see Icing above).
Overall what we know for sure is weather was a factor and the flight definitely crossed through a thunderstorm complex. There is a definite correlation of weather with the crash. However the analysis indicates that the weather is not anything particularly exceptional in terms of instability or storm structure. It's my opinion that tropical storm complexes identical to this one have probably been crossed hundreds of times over the years by other flights without serious incident.
Still, in the main MCS alone, the A330 would have been flying through significant turbulence and thunderstorm activity for about 75 miles (125 km), lasting about 12 minutes of flight time. Of course anything so far is speculation until more evidence comes in, and for all we know the cause of the downing could have been anything from turbulence to coincidental problems like a cargo fire.
My own opinion of the crash cause, as of Monday night, based on the complete lack of a HF radio call and consideration of all of the above, suggests severe turbulence (see the BOAC 911 and BNF 250 tragedies) combining in some unlikely way with CRM/design/maintenance/procedural/other deficiencies to trigger a failure cascade. We can almost certainly count on some unexpected surprises once the CVR is recovered. Until then, all we can do is await the investigation and hope that the world's flight operations stay safe until AFR447's lessons are revealed.
Fuente: Tim Vasquez (www.weathergraphics.com/tim/af447/)