Terrorism not ruled out in Air France crash mystery

A week after Air France A330’s unexplained fatal dive into the Atlantic June 1, debkafile reports from Paris that US, French and Brazilian investigators have begun going through the list of more than 200 passengers on the flight from Rio to Paris with a tooth comb. They are looking at the victims’ countries of origin, family, social and denominational associations for possible clues to the mysterious disaster.
After the recovery of 24 bodies, some personal possessions and large sections of the doomed aircraft, there is still no understanding of what happened aboard the craft in the few short minutes before the crash when its automated monitoring systems transmitted a series of 24 error messages indicating the shutdown of critical systems.
As long as the fog surrounding the tragedy remains impenetrable, a man-made disaster cannot be ruled out. Both the French defense minister and Pentagon have said there were no signs that terrorism was involved in the crash. This was short of an outright denial. But some terror experts are not excluding a terrorist attack.
Saturday, June 6, when the French and US president held a news conference at Caen, Barack Obama commented, apparently off the cuff: “…it’s not clear yet what happened to the plane but the two countries want to find discover what caused the plane to be lost.”
This sort of comment by a US president and America’s active involvement in the investigation of a foreign air disaster when the plane is not of US manufacture and no Americans were aboard are unusual – unless a serious crime or terror is suspected. So too is Sarkozy’s request to Obama for active US participation in the search without consulting with Air France.
Aviation authorities recall that another Air France flight from Buenos Aires to Paris was grounded temporarily on May 27 because of a telephoned bomb threat. The tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet is home to a large Muslim population with a history of militancy.
Aviation experts were first puzzled by the time the airline took on June 1 – an hour and a half – to disclose that the plane had failed to land at Charles de Gaulle after dropping off radar screens. Later, Paris radio announced that there was no hope of survivors among passengers and crew, but offered no information to support this presumption. The delays, according to our Paris sources, indicated that French government and security officials were themselves scrambling frantically for information to establish the cause of the tragedy. They tried to impose a news blackout until they were wiser, but the dearth of facts only gave rise to wild rumors, such as a bolt of lightening or extreme turbulence. Both theories were quickly dismissed; large airliners are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions.
The French government came out with its first official statement only when it was forced to admit it was stumped.
Later, French investigators suggested that the cockpit was empty when the plane dropped without warning into the ocean. They offered no theories about whether the pilots had left the cockpit voluntarily or not.
The auto-pilot was also disengaged shortly before the stream of error messages went out.
In a detailed analysis published Tuesday, June 9, a BBC aviation expert wondered whether it was “an un-commanded disengagement prompted by some other systems failure, or whether the pilot took control in a valiant but ultimately failed attempt to rescue his aircraft.”
Sophisticated American sonar equipment will be deployed Thursday to trace the black boxes in several hundred square kilometers of deep Atlantic Ocean 1,000 km north-east of Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha islands. The locators can detect pings to a depth of 6,000 meters. They will be working against the clock since these signals begin to fade after 30 days. After July 1 the recorders will be lost.
If found in time, French deep-water unmanned subs aboard the oceanographic survey ship Pourquoi Pas will be lowered to retrieve the boxes from the ocean floor
Meanwhile, the recovered vertical stabilizer which must have sheared off the plane shows no signs of burn marks. One expert says this does not mean much since an explosion or fire in the fuselage would not necessarily reach the tail section.
Investigators are also looking at the possibility that external speed monitors iced over and gave dangerously false readings to cockpit computers in a thunderstorm. The sensors aboard flight A330 had not been replaced as Airbus, the manufacturer, had recommended.

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