In Search of Flight AF447 (2019) Movie Script

(haunting music)
- [Narrator] This is Le Bourget Airport.
Under close guard,
the two black boxes of
the Rio-Paris flight,
are ushered into the offices of the BEA,
the Bureau of Inquiry and Analysis,
the French Civil Aviation Authority.
The boxes have just been recovered
from the depth of 3,900 meters,
and are ready to reveal their secrets
23 months after Flight AF447 crashed
in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
For two years now, the
world has been wondering
what caused this accident.
Two years, during which the
families of the 228 victims
have been desperate to
find out what happened
to their loved ones.
Two years, during which investigators
have tirelessly pursued what's already one
of the biggest inquiries
in the history of aviation.
For the first time, using
previously unseen footage,
we are going to tell you
about their search in the ocean depths.
(mysterious electronic music)
May 31st, 2009, 10:29 p.m.,
Flight AF447 takes off for Paris.
At 2:10 a.m., it reports its
position for the last time,
then vanishes in a
communication dead zone.
Within a few hours, the missing
flight becomes headline news
all over the world.
- [Martine] (Speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] What's hard to
grasp, is the word vanished.
How can a 21st century
aircraft just vanish,
nighttime, the middle of
the ocean, no witnesses,
just disappear without a trace?
Very quickly, the French
Navy and Air Force
deploy considerable resources in the zone.
An international coalition
begins to form around France,
involving Brazil and the United States.
Military frigates and nuclear
submarines are sent in.
At this stage, the passenger's families
have not given up hope.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] I didn't
cry at all the first week.
Until it was confirmed otherwise,
there was a chance they were still alive.
Someone in our family said,
"Alexander is a good swimmer.
"So is Julia, maybe they survived."
Those are the kind of
irrational thoughts you have
in that situation.
- [Narrator] In the days
following the disappearance,
the Brazilians find the
tail fin of the AF447,
as well as pieces of debris.
In total, 1,000 pieces are
found floating on the surface,
amounting to about 5% of the aircraft.
These clues make one thing certain.
No passengers can possibly have survived.
(suspenseful music)
(helicopter blades whirring)
Among the floating debris,
50 bodies are found.
They are repatriated and identified.
But where are the other 178 victims?
Where is the wreckage of the plane?
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We figured,
since they'd found the aircraft,
they'd find people's remains, too.
But no, parts were found, people too,
but they didn't find the plane.
- [Narrator] In the days
following the accident,
the investigation is taken up
by the Bureau of Inquiry
and Analysis, the BEA.
It was in these offices that
investigators mapped out
their strategy.
Their prime objective was
to find the black box flight recorders,
containing the secrets of what happened.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] By
understanding this accident,
and its causes, could we
prevent other similar accidents?
Are there other aircraft flying right now,
liable to suffer, maybe not an identical,
but a similar accident?
- [Narrator] What happened
to this Airbus A330?
A technical breakdown?
A handling error?
Faced with such uncertainties,
something had to be done.
- A plane shouldn't fall out of the sky,
and no one knows why or where it is.
To many people fly every single day.
The rumors, of course, were,
it was a bomb, it was terrorism,
and until you find out,
everybody is more at risk,
because you don't know, is
there a problem with the plane?
Is there a failure in maintenance,
or something nobody knows,
until you find out exactly what happened.
- [Narrator] What, exactly,
was it that cost the lives
of 228 passengers and crew?
Where were they now, in the
vastness of the Atlantic?
Although there was little to work on,
the investigators kept their cool.
They focused on the aircraft's
last known position.
From that point, they traced
a radius of 75 kilometers.
This was the designated search area.
Cliffs, mountain peaks, flat lands,
the uneven topography beneath the water,
makes it one of the most mysterious,
most hostile areas of the earth's surface.
- [Alain] (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] It was like
trying to find a single piece
in an area the size of Switzerland,
or a large part of Switzerland.
We were looking for a
needle in a haystack.
(suspenseful music)
- [Narrator] The BEA
launched the first phase
of its investigation with
a degree of optimism.
They were looking for
the signals transmitted
by the black boxes.
To that end, the French Navy
submarine, the Emeraude,
was deployed to comb the area.
The BEA also called into action two ships,
the Fairmount Glacier, and
the Fairmount Expedition.
These two vessels boast
unique hydrophonic technology
for sounding out the sea bed.
The objective was to pick
up the locator beacon
transmitted by the aircraft's black boxes.
In aviation terminology,
these are known as pingers.
Once underwater, they send
out an ultrasound signal
every second.
But in a vast ocean,
detecting these pingers
is a huge challenge.
First, the beacon needs to
have survived the impact
of the accident.
Then, it has to be found
within the 30 to 40 day period,
during which the signal is transmitted.
- [Arnaud] (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] It had to be found.
It just had to be.
We had no choice.
We had just 30 days,
and we had the best on-board
resources at our disposal.
- [Narrator] To coordinate
this armada of hardware,
the BEA also chartered an immense ship,
the Pourquoi Pas?.
(radio chatter)
The hunt for the black
boxes has been going on
for almost a month.
The investigators work tirelessly,
but they have only a few days left
to pick up the sound of the pinger.
- [Captain] (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Okay, we'll
go back up towards .63.
- [Radio Speaker] We
are now at 2500 meters.
- [Narrator] Despite their
concerns, the teams met up
each day around mission
coordinator, Frederic Hervelin.
- [Frederic] (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We kept on believing,
we were in the right zone.
We knew that potentially,
the pingers would keep transmitting,
so we couldn't give up.
- [Weather Announcer]
Apparent wind speed, 13 knots.
- [Narrator] The investigators
reached their deadline date.
In theory, the pingers were
no longer transmitting.
They were now, undetectable.
To sum up this early
campaign, for a month,
the zone was explored
by American hydrophones.
In BEA jargon, it had
been blanche, or cleared.
The wreckage must be somewhere else.
Before returning, the
crew of the Pourquois Pas?
Gathered on deck.
A strange ceremony unfolded
around Captain Philippe Guillaume.
He decided to symbolically
address the 228 victims
of the Rio-Paris flight.
- [Captain] (speaks foreign language)
- [Interpreter] As our mission
moves on to the next stage,
I'd like to say one last farewell,
in the name of all the sailors
aboard the Pourquoi Pas?.
I want you to know, that we
aboard the Pourquoi Pas?,
have all done our utmost in our attempts
to solve the mystery of the tragedy
that took away your lives.
(haunting music)
- [Narrator] Meanwhile,
the lack of progress
began to arouse suspicion
among the victims relatives,
regarding the integrity
of the investigation.
Questions were asked.
Were the BEA, Airbus, and Air
France dragging their feet
in an accident investigation
that may incriminate them?
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] There
was a feeling that maybe
they were trying to
hide things from people.
A great deal of suspicion
arose around the idea
that there was too much at stake,
that the airline and aircraft constructor
were being deliberately secretive.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] The question was,
were they really looking,
or just pretending?
So they could claim to have
done what they needed to,
but failed to find anything.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Imagining that the BEA
didn't want to find the truth,
was like thinking, a doctor
doesn't want to cure you.
Would I really sully 30 years of my career
for short-term, petty, interests?
(suspenseful music)
- [Narrator] Despite the
failure of the initial phase,
despite the rumors,
the BEA wasn't about to give up.
Since they could no longer
count on the pingers,
some new hardware was towed in,
high resolution sonar equipment,
designed for geological
study of the seabed.
The sonar was towed by a cable,
several kilometers long.
Every nook and cranny of the
seabed had to by analyzed,
to discover where the
aircraft wreckage was lurking.
But, after 22 days of searching,
there was still no trace of AF447.
At a cost of around nine million euros,
almost zero headway had been made.
During this second phase,
only this small rectangle
had been cleared.
With the momentum now against the BEA,
new director, Jean-Paul
Tradec, was convinced
that to systematically
explore the entire crash zone
would be too costly, and
take far too much time.
In order to more accurately
target their next move,
the BEA called in the
world's top researchers
in the field of ocean currents.
Starting from the point
where debris was found
after the accident,
these scientists calculated
the direction of drift
in order to pinpoint the
site of the wreckage.
All calculations pointed
to this 2,000 square kilometer area,
northwest of the crash zone.
This is where the wreckage
of AF447 ought to be.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] The interesting thing was,
several scientists from
different countries,
using different models,
all seemed to be pointing
in the same direction.
So, that was pretty convincing.
(suspenseful music)
- [Narrator] The port
of Resife, in Brazil,
nine months after the accident,
two ships chartered by the
BEA, the Seabed Worker,
and the Anne Candies weigh anchor.
Paul-Henri Nargeolet was handed the reins
for this new campaign.
His previous experience
involved exploring the Titanic.
(suspenseful music)
Once in the area, the
crew of the Seabed Worker
began to set up their new machine.
This was the REMUS, an
autonomous underwater vehicle,
that would make research
much more efficient.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] It's an almost
surgical piece of equipment,
capable of very precise work,
with the advantage of being very fast.
Most of all, you can send
it down to a certain depth,
and it will stay there, and get to work.
- [Narrator] Once on the sea bed,
the REMUS started its sonar scans.
It works like an underwater drone,
adapting to the relief,
it sounds out the depths
with surgical precision.
Once near the seabed,
its camera is triggered.
This gives the crew on the surface
visual contact with the seabed.
(mysterious music)
While the BEA search was at a dead end,
in the zone identified by scientists,
some astonishing news was breaking.
The Ministry of Defense
made and announcement.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Good evening everyone.
In tonight's news,
people were beginning to lose faith,
but the French Navy has
made significant progress
in the hunt for the Rio-Paris black boxes.
According to the Ministy of Defense,
the signal sent out by one
of the flight recorders
was apparently pick up by
French submarine, the Emeraude.
- [Narrator] To their very great surprise,
the investigators
realized that the Emeraude
had recorded the sound of
pingers a year earlier,
during the first stages of the search.
The signals were not heard at the time.
Analysis of the submarine's
recordings a year later,
isolated the sound of the
flight recorder's pinger.
The BEA's director called
a press conference.
The families and journalists were baffled.
In truth, so was he.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] I would like
to caution against jumping
to any conclusions.
First, we have not located the wreckage.
We think it's a good chance it's there,
but our misplaced optimism in the past
means we cannot say with
any degree of certainty.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We were totally baffled.
Everything seemed to go wrong,
and we didn't know which way to turn
to understand the situation.
- [Narrator] The crew of the Seabed Worker
had a decision to make.
Should they head for the zone
identified by the Ministry,
several days sail away?
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Troadec
said, what do you think?
Shall we go, or not?
I said, we have no choice,
we have to head up there.
If they said they'd found
something, we had to go see.
(dramatic music)
- [Narrator] Paul-Henri
Nargeolet gave orders
to head southwest.
The Seabed Worker thus set off
for the other side of the search zone,
following up the Ministry's lead.
The AF447 black boxes, and their secrets,
were apparently right there.
(dramatic music)
After a few hours, the
first pictures were in.
No trace of debris.
No trace of the black boxes
detected by the submarine.
On the third day, a
conference call was held
with the BEA in Paris.
Olivier Ferrante had some news.
(phone beeping)
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Young Interpreter] Hello,
we'd like to inform you,
we'd like to inform you of
the latest developments.
Are you sitting down?
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Older Interpreter]
Sure, we're sitting down.
- [Young Interpreter] It's
very likely that the submarine
recorded sound's coming from
within the vessel, itself.
Probably, an operator
was familiarizing himself
with the sound of pingers.
It's what we feared, and
it seems to be the case.
- [Narrator] Incredible, but true.
When the BEA examined the recording,
they discovered that the signal had come
from within the vessel,
itself, not from outside.
Very probably a case of sailors on board
listening to recordings of pingers,
so they could learn how to detect them.
Basically, the Ministry
believed the mystery
had been solved, but it was
a case of misinterpretation.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] At one point,
some information was received,
and they said, we have a
sound, it seems to match.
But in fact, it didn't, at all.
So, for the family, it was
another slap in the face.
You think, they're just amateurs.
(dramatic music)
- [Narrator] On the Seabed Worker,
the atmosphere was heated.
A week had just been wasted
on a horrendous mistake.
Around 21 million euros had been spent
over the three initial phases.
- Perfect shot.
Okay, slow and steady with that,
'cause you're hooked up to the line.
Yeah, just a little longer,
then we're gonna just,
we're just gonna throw it
when he's got most of it gone.
You can let that go.
(dramatic music)
- [Narrator] At the BEA,
frustration was spilling over.
What if the zone identified by scientists
wasn't the right one?
The sea currents model had
determined the search zone
for phase three.
What if the calculations were flawed?
At a meeting, Jean-Paul
Troadec and Olivier Faurent
realized their strategy
needed to be reassessed.
They decided to use concrete evidence,
and decide, in situ, how the
sea currents actually worked.
To that end, the BEA dropped
buoys equipped with GPS
into the zone, to analyze their drift.
Two weeks later, the
results were astonishing.
Each buoy seemed to take
a completely unpredictable trajectory.
The unavoidable conclusion,
was that in this area of the Atlantic,
sea currents are completely random.
On the ground, the calculations
that had directed the search
for several weeks, were worthless.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Now,
it's tempting to think
that experts at that
level could have said,
you know, in that zone,
it's completely random.
Making retro drift calculations
is pretty much impossible.
I'll say no more.
- [Narrator] One year to
the day after the accident,
the victim's families called
their own press conference.
After all the diappointments,
U-turns, and dashed hopes,
the wrangle with the BEA
had become poisonous.
Were the investigators at
the mercy of politicians
and industrialists?
The lawyer acting on behalf
of the victim's families
expressed his outrage.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We are forced to wonder
if there is an agenda here,
inasmuch as victim's families
are being treated with contempt.
Once again, we are told nothing.
All our information comes through you.
It's just unreal.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Desperation set in.
We'd had enough.
But you still have to
get up in the morning,
go to work, get on with your life.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We were
pretty sure that the BEA
hadn't done everything in their power.
To us, the strategy was all wrong,
and we made no bones about it.
(haunting music)
- [Narrator] After a long,
10 month interruption,
the search resumed.
Jean-Paul Troadec, Director of the BEA,
had managed to obtain
more funding from Airbus
and Air France to launch
a fourth campaign.
A press conference was called
at the Ministry of Ecology
and Transportation.
After phase three, we are
more confident than ever
that we can work in these terrains,
and that the strategy
that we have developed
to look at every place twice, at least,
we have a confidence that, if the aircraft
is in this area, we will be
able to identify the wreckage.
I want to emphasize that
none of this is easy,
none of this is routine,
working at these depths in the ocean,
again, is at the very
cutting edge of research
and exploration on the planet.
(dramatic music)
- [Narrator] Starting out
from the Suape Port in Brazil,
phase four got under way.
The ship heading this new
operation was the Alucia.
The objective was to search around
the last known position of the plane,
and then explore the
whole of the circled area,
come what may.
It was basically a return to square one,
exploring zones, that
had already been cleared,
maybe erroneously, during the first phase.
(dramatic music)
This new misssion was
lead by BEA investigator,
Jean-Claude Vital.
He would unwittingly become
one of the key figures
in the AF447 mystery.
On the ninth day, there was a new twist.
Mike Purcell, the man behind the REMUS,
went to see Jean-Claude Vital.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] I was having dinner,
and Mike came along, and he said to me,
Jean-Claude, we have something
that might be and echo.
A level of trust builds up.
I trusted him, and I knew
that he wouldn't be calling me
for no reason.
All the images from the bottom
of the sea are very murky,
are very gray, you can
barely see anything.
But in this picture, you
could make out a shape,
and we thought, ah, we
might by on to something.
- [Narrator] On the sonar,
a strange shape was clearly
visible on the seabed.
Seizing this glimmer of hope,
Jean-Claude Vital immediately
sent the REMUS down
to photograph the zone.
But things became more difficult.
- [Jean-Claude] (speaking
foreign language)
- [Interpreter] And
then the weather turned.
A storm blew up, conditions worsened,
we couldn't bring the REMUS up.
We had to wait several hours
until the sea calmed down,
to recover the robot.
(mysterious music)
Once we had it on board,
we had to recover the data,
something like 18,000 photograhs.
So there we were, all in the room,
watching and waiting.
All we could see is gray.
Gray and more gray.
Then suddenly, bang.
We could see an aircraft part.
It was weird.
So, we wound it forward a little,
and then saw more and more parts.
So, at that point, I said,
right, stop everything,
I need to alert people.
So, that moment was, who do you call?
Alain, Alain Boullard.
(suspenseful music)
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Jean-Claude
Vital called me,
I think it was Saturday
morning at around six a.m.,
on April second.
Jean-Claude said, "Alain,
I think we found it."
That moment was such a rush.
Everybody was still in bed.
My wife was sleeping.
I immediately called Jean-Paul Troadec
and Martine, to tell
them, I think we found it.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] I remember
arriving at the BEA,
I think it was about eight in the evening,
Alain was at his desk,
still looking at the
photos he'd just received.
And when I saw him,
he said, we've got it,
so I said, are you sure?
He said, yes I'm sure.
I've got photos showing
the plane's registration.
So then, I thought, right,
so now we're moving on,
into another phase.
- [Narrator] The anger of
the victim's families grew
when they heard that the
wreckage was almost right
in the center of the crash zone circle,
only 12 kilometers from the
aircraft's last known position.
A zone that the
investigators had eliminated
from their search, after phase one.
Having trolled the sector
with their hydrophones,
without any positive result,
the zone had been declared, clear.
Still today, certain members
of the victim's families
are baffled by what happened.
Many had said that the area
around the aircraft's last known position,
should be prioritized in the search.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] If a needle
slips through my fingers,
where do I look for it?
Over there, or here?
Here, right?
Why didn't they do the
same with the aircraft?
I've never had an explanation
from the BEA on this point,
as to why they didn't look
in the area where the plane
was last seen.
It's a complete mystery to me.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] It's easy
with the benefit of hindsight,
when you know where the plane came down.
I'm sure some people say, they're stupid,
it was right there, why
didn't they look there first?
It could have been to the
south, to the west, anywhere.
We didn't know.
The plane may even have done
a U-turn and turned away
from the clouds, gone through the clouds.
We had no idea.
- [Narrator] They had no idea.
But the investigators were caught up
in a hunt for the pingers.
It's possible that they were damaged,
and never transmitted any signal at all.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] What happened?
Why didn't we hear it?
That's a whole scientific process.
The evidence suggests that the pingers
were not transmitting.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Rightly or wrongly,
later, we were proved to be wrong,
we decided that the aircraft
could not be in the zone
scanned by the hydrophones,
so we moved away and
searched in other areas.
We never had a case of
pingers not working,
so when the aircraft wasn't there,
we looked somewhere else.
- [Narrator] Alain Boullard's
job was far from over.
Now, he had to locate the key
to the whole investigation,
the flight recorders.
(haunting music)
This time, the investigators
knew exactly where to look.
They went to the precise spot
where the wreckage had been found,
the scene of the tragedy.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Every
time I do a search at sea,
I'm struck by the same thing.
On the surface, there's
absolutely nothing.
The sea swallows everything, then forgets.
When I was on the surface
where the aircraft crashed,
it was just incredible.
There's nothing left.
But if you go down,
it's all there, waiting.
It's been there for two years.
- [Narrator] At the crash zone,
the crew sent down the
submarine robot, the Remora.
This allowed the investigators
to explore the wreckage site,
scouring the seabed for
the AF447 flight recorders.
The robot is controlled
by a team of technicians,
linked to it by a cable
several kilometers long.
- After you look at this,
you gotta take those turns,
so you can see all the stuff
in a minute, in the zone.
- Okay, now it's interesting.
Roger that, headin' out.
- [Narrator] But at a
depth of 3,900 meters,
the only available light is
supplied by the Remora, itself.
Alain Boullard knew that at this rate,
locating the black boxes could take weeks.
- [Radio Speaker] 45 meters.
- Thanks, 45 meters, then let me know
when you get a visual on it.
- [Narrator] Some parts of
the final stages of the search
are etched in the memories
of all those involved,
such as this message,
transmitted to the reseach team.
- Alain brought this email to me,
and it was the husband of
one of the flight attendants,
and said, please tell all
the people on the boat,
the investigators, the
technicians, the seamen,
thank you for your efforts in this,
and that he and his children
prayed for us every day.
Which was very emotional to me,
that in his grief, he
is thinking of others,
and that he was thinking
of us and thanking us.
- There's a line there.
It looks like two things.
There's another one there, on the right.
(chilling music)
- [Narrator] Among the debris,
the investigators discovered
recognizable pieces
of aircraft,
parts of the fusilage,
sections of the cabin,
even the copilot's seat.
- There, we have two straps,
one there, up here we can't see much.
- The copilot seat has
the arm rest on the right.
The captain's is on the left.
- [Narrator] Despite all the doubts,
the disappointments, the exhaustion,
the teams did not give up.
Then the tide turned.
Their tenacity finally paid off.
- It might be on there.
- That's it, isn't it?
- Yes, we've got it, that's it.
- Can someone call Alain?
- That definitely looks like it.
It has the label.
- [Investigators] Yay!
- Where's the phone?
- Which phone?
- To call Alain?
- Right up here, by the powder.
- Oh, yeah.
- Alain, we found one.
Can you come down?
- [Narrator] Once the flight
recorder had been found,
it had to be identified.
Was it the FDR, the Flight Data Recorder,
or the CVR, the Cockpit Voice Recorder?
Both are obviously very important,
but each plays a different role
in the investigation.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] PN is 617-6096-014.
I'm pleased to announce, we
have the Flight Data Recorder.
- Good teamwork!
- Real teamwork!
You gotta have teamwork.
- Thank you, appreciate it.
And good job.
- [Narrator] Aircraft
trajectory, altitude,
engine perameters,
this small orange cylinder,
potentially contains
over 1,500 pieces of
data about the flight.
It should answer the question
everybody has been asking
for the last two years,
what happened aboard the Rio-Paris flight?
- [Director] Come down, come down.
Either that, or show that,
but I'd just come down.
Drop it.
Money in the bank.
- [Narrator] Three hours
later, the flight recorder
had been recovered from the sea.
A few hours after that,
investigators located the second recorder,
just a dozen meter,s
or so, from the first.
Faces lit up with excitement.
For two years, the BEA,
the aeronautical industry,
victim's families, and the world's press
had been waiting for this moment.
Right in the middle of the Atlantic,
the black box flight recorders
had finally been recovered.
The FDR, the Flight Data Recorder,
and the CVR, the Cockpit Voice Recorder.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] A
recorder is only this big,
and it was in the middle of the ocean.
That little box will tell
us a lot about the fate
of 228 people.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] When the
wreckage was located,
when the black boxes were discovered,
I felt a great sense of relief,
and thought, at last, a
calm and rational assessment
of things can be made.
And we can set aside
all the irrationality.
(haunting music)
- [Narrator] It took 176 days at sea,
and no less than 31 million euros
to find these two black boxes,
and maybe, finally understand
what caused the tragedy.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Yes, it's
in pretty good condition.
- [Narrator] It was, of
course, essential to recover
the flight data,
but Alain Boullard sensed
that an explanation
for the accident would probably
come from this recorder,
the one that captured the
pilot's final conversations.
The Gendarmes immediately
placed the boxes under seal.
They were a vital piece of
evidence in the judicial inquiry
opened against Airbus and
Air France for manslaughter.
At this stage, Alain
Boullard remained cautious.
Nothing had yet been established.
If the black boxes turned
out to be unusable,
some pieces of debris could
provide precious information.
(suspenseful music)
The robot, thus brought
several pieces of wreckage
to the surface.
(energetic music)
- Okay, quick place.
- We've got right and left lap strap.
(exciting music)
- [Narrator] Was there
a mechanical failure?
An examination of the engine
would reveal a great deal.
At this stage, though, no
theory could be discounted.
But the biggest hopes were
pinned on the black boxes.
A French Navy patrol boat
was sent out to return them
to the BEA in Paris,
as quickly as possible.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Finding the
black boxes was the first step,
but a thorough examination
of their contents
was the crucial part.
There's always a doubt
with flight recorders,
and here, those doubts
were increased by the fact
that they spent two years under water,
at a depth of over 4,000 meters.
(suspenseful music)
- [Narrator] From the middle
of the Atlantic Ocean,
the truth behind AF447
was finally making its way
to Paris.
A few days later, at the BEA,
it was the moment of truth,
as the flight recorders were opened,
an operation that investigators,
the aeronautical industry,
and the world press,
had been waiting for for 22 months,
a moment the families of the 228 victims
had been fighting tirelessly for,
since June 1, 2009.
- See, guys, we'll want to kind
of take the puck in layers.
Don't get too greedy, going
too deep right off the bat.
Just kinda work your way down.
- And we'll go layer by layer
- Just later by layer,
work your way down until
you see the surface of the--
- [Frederic] (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We were all
struck by the odor emanating
from the recorders.
The smell of mud, which
filled us with foreboding,
concerning the state of
the electronic cards,
which we couldn't see yet.
- [Narrator] The BEA investigators began
with the Flight Data Recorder.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] It is 6:37 p.m.
- [Narrator] Next, was the
cockpit voice recorder.
(moving cello music)
After many hours of
drying, to remove moisture,
several examinations and repairs,
it was time to power up the recorders.
The tension was palpable.
At the BEA, everyone was
holding their breath.
- 25, 23, 21.
- [Narrator] The verdict was in.
Despite all that time spent under water,
the data on the two
recorders could be accessed.
The download could be launched.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] The real highlight,
was when they told us, they worked.
That really was a landmark moment.
It was our objective from the start.
Finding the black boxes
with their data intact
was the culmination of a two year battle.
(dramatic music)
- [Narrator] After 22 months of suspense,
the truth would finally be out.
Hard data was now accessible,
and the flight could be analyzed,
minute by minute,
to reveal any potential
mechanical failures.
And, there was a sound recording.
Investigators could now hear
what happened in the cockpit.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] We were petrified,
white as a ghost,
and after listening,
we sat in stony silence
for maybe 15 minutes,
not daring to look at
each other or say a word.
We had just heard a live recording
of the Air France 447 crash.
(chilling music)
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] The
families, who for 20 months
had to accept the loss
of their loved ones,
without any tangible proof of their death,
were forced to create a
scenario for the accident,
otherwise they couldn't cope,
couldn't accept the loss.
I remember someone saying, it's awful,
now I have to change
everything in my mind.
Meaning, their scenario didn't
necessarily match the one
the investigators produced
from the flight recorders.
I thought that must be dreadful.
- [Narrator] On July 5, 2012,
the BEA finally delivered
its findings to the press.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Here we are,
after an extraordinary investigation,
that has lasted over three years.
Extraordinary, first of all,
by the international scale
of the disaster.
Extraordinary, too, by the
mystery that has surrounded
the exact circumstances of this accident.
- [Narrator] According to
the BEA's final report,
as is often the case,
many different causes
triggered the accident.
A few hours after take-off,
ice crystals formed on the pitot probes,
which measure flight speed.
Speed indications were,
therefore, erroneous,
which dis-activated the automatic pilot.
At that moment, alarms
went off in the cockpit.
The surprised copilots then
nosed up to an excessive degree.
This triggered an aerodynamic stall,
causing the aircraft to lose
lift, and go into a dive.
In the complete darkness, the
pilots couldn't see anything.
They didn't understand what was happening,
and didn't know how to react.
Four minutes later, the
aircraft hit the ocean.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Thanks
to the cockpit recording,
I realized that right to the end,
the pilots didn't understand
what was going on.
That encourages me to believe and hope
that at least the passengers
didn't suffer in the cabin.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] Air France flight 447
was all about the distress of families,
and was maybe the first investigation
to be in the media
spotlight to such an extent.
But air disasters are always shocking,
a human tragedy,
and this accident was all of that.
We solved the technical riddle,
but we didn't solve anything else.
Did we enable people to
understand the event?
We didn't replace their husbands.
We didn't replace their mothers.
We didn't achieve any of that.
- (speaking foreign language)
- [Interpreter] I went
through stages of uncertainty,
suspicion, and even violent criticism.
I know,
because there was no result,
and there was a stack
of information showing
that things weren't going
in the right direction.
But having analyzed it all,
I think they did as much as they could.
Mistakes were made, but they
did as much as they could.
So, there it is.
I changed my mind.
(dramatic music)
(moving cello music)