Crash 'brings back memories'

2009-06-02 08:35
Pretoria - “We’re looking for less than a needle in a haystack.”

This is how Charles Norval, head of the South African search-and-rescue organisation in Johannesburg, described the search for the missing Air France plane in the South Atlantic Ocean on Monday.

 “Nobody knows exactly how far the plane still flew after it sent an automatic emergency signal.

“Therefore there’s no specific area which can be searched - the ocean is huge, and even more so when you’re looking for remnants of a plane.

“But in terms of search-and-rescue, we never give up, and for the moment we and our colleagues in Brazil believe that there is real hope that some of the passengers will be alive when they’re found.

“The pilots could’ve made an emergency landing on the open water, and the passengers could’ve floated like that for several days.

“There might be ships in the area which could pick up survivors. We never give up until quite a reasonable amount of time has passed.”

Helderberg disaster

Norval said any airplane disaster involving the ocean is sure to elicit strong emotions - on Monday he experienced this yet again, just like in 1987 when he was on duty as an air traffic controller during the Helderberg disaster.

The Helderberg, a South African Airways Boeing 747, crashed into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mauritius in November 1987. All 159 passengers on board died.

“You’d have these families waiting in vain for their loved ones, and you’d realise how difficult it was going to be to get all the answers concerning what went wrong.

“The big difference between Monday’s situation and the Helderberg, is that the Helderberg’s pilots continuously communicated about the problems on board.

There was presumably a catastrophe on board the plane on Monday, which must have made communication impossible, save for the automatic emergency signal.”

SA looking for emergency signals

Airplanes and ships in the search-and-rescue area for which South Africa is responsible were asked early on Monday to be alert to any emergency signals which might originate from the Air France flight – even if the supposed accident happened outside this area.

The plane’s emergency beacons send out signals when the plane strikes something or comes into contact with seawater.

“We monitor the emergency frequencies anyway, but we’re more attentive to any signal in a situation such as this.”

Norval feels it would be irresponsible to speculate about the reasons for Monday’s disaster.

“What we do know is that there was a catastrophe on board due to strong turbulence. It was so bad that the crew were only able to send out an emergency signal. One suspects that there might have been structural problems on the plane due to the turbulence, but we simply don’t know how far the plane was able to fly.”

According to Norval, electronic and satellite resources are now being used to determine to plane’s position.

Read more on:    airbus a330  |  south african airways  |  boeing  |  france  |  brazil  |  air france plane missing


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Inside News24


Karl Lagerfeld spotted with custom gold Apple Watch

Fashion designer Carl Lagerfeld has just proved that fashion and tech can indeed go together!


Luxury living

WATCH: Private luxury island for sale!
The most luxurious dog house!
Must see: The world’s most expensive timepiece
Exciting new luxury SUV arrives in SA!

You may have extra responsibilities you need to deal with right now and you need to create the necessary boundaries more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.