Miles O'Brien Blogging the Air France Crash: The Search for Black Boxes

Miles O'Brien, whose work we've been featuring recently as a Boing Boing Video guest contributor, has been covering the Air France crash intensively on True Slant and in short bursts on Twitter. Here's a snip from his latest blog post, about the effort to retreive the plane's "black boxes."
Now that searchers have found some floating remnants of Air France 447 in the Atlantic 430 miles (700 kilometers) north of the Fernando de Noronha islands, the hard work of trying to locate the Airbus' "black boxes" - the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder - can begin. This is actually much worse than the proverbial needle in the haystack, because in that case, the assumption is the needle can be found after expending a lot of time and energy. These boxes might very well be truly lost to the abyss.

But of course they still must try to find them as well as any wreckage of the Airbus A-330.

To that end, a French research ship with a submersible capable of diving to a depth of 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) is steaming to the area. The French transport Ministry says the ship carries equipment "able to explore more than 97% of the ocean bed area, specifically in the search area." I some spots, Atlantic is more than 20,000 feet deep in the area where searchers found the floating debris.

The submersible will be listening for the distinctive "pinging" noise that these boxes are designed to emit once they are submerged in water. They are supposed to "ping" for thirty days in water as deep as 20,000 feet. Sonar used by surface ships is only good to about a thousand feet of depth - so it is essential to send some "ears" deep beneath the sea in order to find the boxes. These sonar devices can be towed by ships or ply the deep on their own power.

Long Odds Search for Black Boxes (

About Xeni Jardin

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email:
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4 Responses to Miles O'Brien Blogging the Air France Crash: The Search for Black Boxes

  1. NickW says:

    Why do these boxes with vital information about what happened to a crashed airliner sink to the bottom of the ocean? Isn’t it possible to engineer some sort of flotation device integrated into this black box?

  2. Nate Ocean says:

    Miles O’Brien is not competent to comment about this airplane crash.

    Previously, when an Air France flight crashed and burned in Canada, O’Brien announced that all had perished. Nobody could have survived.

    Of course, as he spoke, ALL 400 passengers had, in fact, survived. They managed to exit out the other side of the craft.

    So much for O’Brien’s expertise.

  3. dculberson says:

    Neat. I’m glad they at least have the “ping,” but it seems like there could be more advanced location tech incorporated in them. Though in the end they do have to stick with what they know will work and be reliable even under a few miles of water and after a significant impact shock.

    And you don’t fool me with that fake picture! That thing isn’t even black! grumble grumble something about fail.

    I hope they find it and the data it contains helps prevent future tragedies.

  4. dodi says:

    I was a temp at Dukane for about 6 weeks in 1997. I mostly filed invoices for the underwater acoustic beacons for black boxes.
    All the major airline manufacturers were customers and plenty of companies I’d never heard of. It was freaky to think that the only time this product would be activated was in a worst case scenario water crash.

    @Dculberson: I was disillusioned by the orange black boxes too.

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