The tragic crash of a Germanwings A320, 4U flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, has led to widespread speculation regarding potential causes for the crash. We know very little at this point, but expect to learn more as the flight data recorder, which was recovered, is analyzed by French authorities. While that “black box” was damaged, it appears that the data are intact and recoverable, according to recent news reports.
We do know that the aircraft was 24 years old, delivered in 1991, and had 58,300 hours and 46,700 cycles, had a line check the day before the crash, and a C-check in 2013. We also know that the aircraft was cruising about 38,000 feet, then descended for 8 minutes at a high rate of descent before crashing into the mountains at about 6,000 feet. The aircraft wreckage is spread over a wide area, in small pieces, with no chance of passenger or crew survival.
An area of focus for investigators is likely to be on the lack of communications from the cockpit during the rapid descent. But we have no clue as to what happened yet, and there are multiple possibilities.
Is the A320 family safe?
There are more than 6,000 A320 family aircraft in service, and over the last 27 years since the aircraft has entered service in 1988, there have been 10 fatal incidents, including the AirAsia crash in Indonesia earlier this year. The A320 is a very safe aircraft, operating reliably every day around the world and in service with major airlines on every continent.
Will we ever know what happened?
Aircraft accident investigation takes time, and often multiple factors combine to bring an airliner down. Investigation will include an examination of every piece of wreckage from this aircraft (and there are many) as well as a full analysis of the flight data recorded, and when it is found, the cockpit voice recorder to help piece together what happened. With such a hard descent and complete break-up of the airframe, this is not a minor forensic task for accident investigators. The French DGCA, Airbus, its suppliers, and Lufthansa Group will all focus on determining the cause, and taking corrective action so it never happens again. We do expect, however, to discover a cause.
The Bottom Line:
In the wake of a tragedy, multiple theories emerge that are based on speculation and possibilities, rather than facts. We prefer to wait, rather than speculate. We would not hesitate boarding an A320, which has a strong track record for safety, and is an excellent aircraft.