The aircraft's Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR), Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Quick Access Recorder arrived in Canberra late on Wednesday evening. Downloading and preliminary analysis has revealed good data from both recorders. Data from the FDR has been provided to participants in the investigation which include Qantas, the French accident investigation authority - the Bureau d'Enqu'tes et d'Analyses (BEA), Airbus and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. The aircraft's operating crew acted responsibly and promptly after the aircraft was shut down by isolating the CVR to preserve information for the purpose of the investigation.

While the full interpretation and analysis of the recorded data will take some time, preliminary review of the data indicates that the aircraft was cruising at 37,000 feet, when the aircraft initiated a climb of about 200 feet, before returning back to 37,000 feet. About 1 minute later, the aircraft pitched nose-down, to a maximum pitch angle of about 8.4 degrees, and descended about 650 feet in about 20 seconds, before returning to the cruising level. About 70 seconds after returning to 37,000 feet there was a further nose-down pitch, to a maximum pitch angle of about 3.5 degrees, and the aircraft descended about 400 feet in about 16 seconds, before returning once again to the cruising level.

I turn your attention to the screen where there is a very basic animation, using data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder, of the first pitch-down event.

Basic animation using data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder

Detailed review and analysis of DFDR data is ongoing to assist in identifying the reasons for the events. At this point, the event appears very complex. The aircraft contains very sophisticated and highly reliable systems whose interaction is very complex. As far as we can understand, there seems to be issues with some on-board components. Further examination of the auto-pilot system, data sources used by flight control computers and the flight control computers themselves, along with the interaction of the flight crew with the aircraft's systems is necessary to achieve a better understanding of the event.

Meanwhile, the on-site team in Learmonth is working hard and has assessed and documented significant damage to some overhead panels, consistent with injuries that were sustained by the aircraft occupants. Ceiling panels were removed and wiring looms were visually inspected and no defects were found. In addition, visual inspection of the aircraft has been conducted and no structural defects have been found. Inspection of the cargo area found all cargo was loaded in the correct position and no load shift was evident. All of the cargo load was properly secured.

With all necessary precautions taken and completed to ensure no loss of evidence, the aircraft was then powered up and data pertaining to specific computers and systems was downloaded. This was done in a careful and methodical manner to ensure no data was lost. This data is essential to the investigation and includes additional information not recorded on the Digital Flight Data Recorder. This download occurred on the aircraft involving representatives of the ATSB, Qantas and Airbus. This data is currently being analysed. More data is to be downloaded today and further assessment will be carried out on the aircraft's systems. It is likely that a number of components will be removed for further downloading/testing, some of which will need to be done at the manufacturers facilities in France or relevant country of manufacture.

Ongoing activities include a detailed review of the aircraft's maintenance history, including checking on compliance with relevant Airworthiness Directives, although initial indications are that the aircraft met the relevant airworthiness requirements. Work is also ongoing to progress interviews, which will include with injured passengers to understand what occurred in the aircraft cabin. The ATSB plans to distribute a survey to all passengers. There is no evidence at this stage to indicate that the use of portable electronic devices by passengers contributed to the event, however, it would be expected that questions relating to such usage would be included in the passenger survey.

The nature of the initiating event has not yet been determined. The investigation will be examining the broad range of factors that influence the operation of the aircraft. There was been close, frequent, communications between the ATSB, Qantas, Airbus and CASA. That close communication will continue as the investigation progresses to ensure that any necessary safety action can be instigated as soon as possible should critical safety factors be identified.

The ATSB will release a Preliminary Factual report within about 30 days, however, should any critical safety issues emerge that require urgent attention, the ATSB will immediately bring such issues to the attention of the relevant authorities who are best placed to take prompt action to address those issues and will publish such information more broadly ahead of the Preliminary report.

As I noted in the media conference earlier this week, we cannot pre-empt the findings in relation to cabin safety issues and the wearing of seatbelts, but this accident does serve as a salient reminder to all people who travel by air of the importance of keeping seatbelts fastened at all times when seated in an aircraft.

Media contact: 1800 020 616
Last update 06 April 2017

Related Media