Black box could hold key to Alps crash probe

The black box flight recorder from the doomed Germanwings plane was damaged in the impact but air investigators hope it will unlock the mystery of why the plane plunged from the sky over the Alps on Tuesday.

Black box could hold key to Alps crash probe
The damaged black box from Flight 4U9525 could shed light on what happened. Photo: BEA

When investigators comb through the devastation of an aircraft crash site, the first thing they'll look for — if there are no survivors — is the black box.

Commercial airliners are obliged to carry two so-called black boxes, reinforced recording devices that despite the name are in fact bright orange, with reflective stripes.

One is the digital flight data recorder which gathers information about the speed, altitude and direction of the plane, while the cockpit voice recorder keeps track of conversations and other sounds in the pilots' cabin.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Wednesday that the cockpit recorder recovered from the wreckage of the Germanwings Airbus that crashed on Tuesday, killing all 150 aboard, has been found damaged and has been taken to Paris for analysis.

The recorder will hopefully have picked up the conversations between the pilots and perhaps other members of the crew throughout the flight although it's not yet known if they are of sufficient quality to be used.

Cazeneuve was however positive, saying that the box was "usable".

(Photo: BFM TV screengrab)

Investigators are set to release their initial findings later on Wednesday and they will hope the contents of the recorder will tell them why Flight 4U9525 crashed in the French Alps, without the crew having issued a distress signal.

The data black box has yet to be found on the mountain in the French Alps where the Airbus A320 went down.

Introduced in the 1960s, flight recording devices are housed in boxes built to survive extreme shocks, fire and lengthy submersion underwater.

They can survive as deep as 6,000 metres (almost 20,000 feet) underwater or an hour at 1,100 degrees centigrade. To make them easier to find, they are fitted with a beacon which can emit a signal for one month.

In January 2004, the black boxes of an Egyptian charter flight that crashed off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh were found after a two-week search, 1,022 metres below water.

Then, after 23 months submerged at a depth of 3,900 metres in the Atlantic Ocean, the black boxes of doomed Air France flight AF447 travelling between Rio and Paris were retrieved, with the data intact, allowing investigators to determine the causes of the June 1, 2009 crash.

In France, the hunt is now on for the missing black box — and, investigators hope, the full picture of what happened during the plane's still mysterious crash.

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Father and twin daughters die in light plane crash in France

A father and his twin teenage daughters died on Monday when their light aircraft crashed in central France in as yet unexplained circumstances, the rescue services said.

Father and twin daughters die in light plane crash in France
Mountain range in France's Puy-de-Dome department. Photo: Alpha du centaure/Flickr

“The accident occurred at 12:30 pm (1030 GMT). The plane crashed and broke up without catching fire,” the rescue services said, confirming a report in the local La Montagne newspaper.

The circumstances of the accident, which involved a single-engine two-seater aircraft, were not yet clear.

“The weather conditions were actually quite good at the time of the accident,” the rescue services said.

The crash occurred in a mountainous area in the Mazoires commune of the Puy-de-Dome department.

The father, who was said to be aged “about 40” and his 14-year-old twin daughters were from the Paris region.

An investigation has been launched into the cause of the crash.

There has already been a number of accidents involving light aircraft in France this summer, including one in the Ardennes on July 28 in which the pilot and one of three passengers were killed.

Two people were also killed on July 17 when their aircraft crashed in Corsica and two others will killed in accident in Les Mureaux, northwest of Paris.