On June 1, 2009, AF447 vanished en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris and was eventually found to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people. Nearly five years later on March 8, 2014, MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. In his 2015 book ‘The Plane That Wasn’t There’, aviation expert Jeff Wise pointed out a number of similarities which begs the question: Are they related?
He said: “In both cases, the planes vanished after venturing beyond the range of land-based radar in the middle of the night.
“And in both cases air traffic controllers were late in realising that something untoward has happened, because their screens continued to display the aircraft symbol as if everything were normal.
“It was during this period of confusion that MH370 pulled a 180 and flew at high speed in the opposite direction.”
The main difference between the two tragedies was that AF447 was eventually found.
The plane had been sending regular maintenance updates to Air France’s headquarters, which led to the discovery.
Sent every minute, these messages – Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) – included GPS data that marked the plane’s exact location when it disappeared.
Despite this astonishingly accurate information, the plane’s black boxes were not found until around two years later.
However, aeronautical engineers decided to learn lessons from AF447 to “make sure nothing like it ever happened again”.
It was a result of this event that satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat started recording Burst Timing Offset values, which ended up being central to the investigation into MH370.
The hardware for this was installed in 2013, just a year before MH370 disappeared.
Mr Wise said: “It’s no understatement to say that if Air France 447 hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have any pings today for MH370.”
But what if there was a more sinister form of lesson-learning that came out of the AF447 case?
Mr Wise said: “As the search for MH370 unfolded however, I wondered if the case of the missing French jetliner might have supplied negative as well as positive inspiration.
“What if – I wondered – someone had taken Air France 447 as a lesson in how to make other airliners disappear?”
In this way, the two events could be related in that MH370’s hijackers took “inspiration” from AF447.
A harrowing concept, this would explain the similarities between the two disasters.
Mr Wise also emphasised how close Air France 447 was to being a mystery just like MH370.
He said: “If Air France 447 had not been broadcasting those ACARS messages every minute via a satcom, it might never have been found.
“The plane essentially would have vanished.”