Update: Robots find key missing piece of Air France crash black box

May 1, 2011 - via Network World

Talk about finding a needle in a haystack.  Investigators today said they had found the missing piece of the Flight Data recorder from the undersea Air France Flight 447 wreckage.

The French investigation unit Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA) managing the search said last week that the chassis of the airplane's Flight Data Recorder  was found, but without the Crash Survivable Memory Unit  that contains the data. It was surrounded by debris from other parts of the airplane.

Original story: Flight crash mystery: Robots find Air France flight recorder but key memory part missing
The so-called memory unit was brought to the surface and is now being examined aboard the surface ship Ile de Sein.  Investigators are hopeful but cautious as the note the device still may not be able to yield the information needed to help solve the crash  mystery.  They did say the memory box looked to be in good shape but investigators said they  wouldn't know how good until the box gets back to BEA's headquarters in about 10 days.  
Not everyone is optimistic though. From CNN: A British aviation consultant said he is skeptical about how useful the memory unit will be to investigators, considering it has been sitting between 2,000 to 4,000 meters (6,562 to 13,124 feet) below the ocean's surface for 23 months. "If you were to throw a computer into the ocean, imagine how all the parts would eventually split and you have the corrosive effects of seawater and the depths involved," Phil Seymour, chief operating officer of the International Bureau of Aviation.

More: Underwater robots find airline wreckage, bodies
The BEA said it is still searching for the other black box that contains voice transmission from the cockpit. The BEA said noted that new parts have been identified, such as the Auxiliary Power Unit which is located at the aft of the airplane. The forward and aft parts of the airplane are broken apart and mixed up, which means that a time-consuming systematic search is required, the BEA said.

Crash victim bodies to have been found but recovery operations won't likely take place until the black boxes are located and brought up.

Robotic subs from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are at the heart of the search investigators hope will go a long way towards solving the mystery of exactly why the plane crashed. The Air France plane was flying from Rio de Jeneiro to Paris, when it crashed into the on June 1, 2009, taking with it 228 people.

According to WHOI, the three REMUS 6000 autonomous undersea vehicles it is using in the search are designed to operate in depths up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet or 3.73 miles). As each vehicle covers an area in a "mowing" pattern, it employs side-scan sonar to survey up to 600 meters to its left and right. Capable of staying underwater for up to 20 hours at a time, REMUS then returns to the ship, where scientists download its data. If the data contains evidence of any debris or other items of interest undersea, a REMUS 6000 will be dispatched to gather more detailed, up-close images using high-resolution cameras located on the bottom of the vehicle, the group stated.

BEA continues to update its Website about the progress of the search.

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