03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Air France 447: Live Special Investigation

Australian TV reporter Ross Coulthart's investigation into the tragedy aired last Sunday night.  I invite you to watch it here (by scrolling through "Featured Videos" and clicking on the "Scare bus" icon).

Reporter Coulthart refers to an early-warning episode aboard Quantas Flight 72.  

Aviation Week October 2008. "Airbus is issuing guidelines to A330 and A340 operators to prevent a recurrence of a flight control anomaly believed linked to the October uncommanded pitch-down onboard a Qantas A330.  Flight 72 was cruising at 37,000 feet with autopilot and autothrust systems engaged. In 20 seconds, the aircraft suddenly climbed 300 feet, then abruptly dived 650 feet. According to the Australian Transportation Safety Board, an inertial reference system computer fault automatically disconnected the autopilot."

"The unit continued to feed erroneous and spiked values to the aircraft's three flight control primary computers. This in turn led to false stall and overspeed warnings, as well as the loss of attitude (artificial horizon) information on the captain's primary flight display."           

This thousand-foot, negative-G plunge left 100 with broken bones, neck and spine injuries, and lacerations that splattered blood like a horror film. A Sri Lankan's couple's seat belts failed, so this sky-dive smacked them against the ceiling. They saw their own deaths, so hugged and braced for their demise. After the captain wrestled control back from these rogue computers, they hurtled the aircraft downhill a second horrifying time.

The Quantas pilots were terrified; they feared they might lose control. And this was daylight, in clear, smooth skies with a visible horizon to fly off, no thunderstorms, and the copilot's flight displays still working.

The captain refuses to ever again fly an Airbus. 

The Air France pilots faced a far different, worst-case scenario: pitch-black night, no horizon, the planet's worst thunderstorms, failed weather radar, with all electronic flight displays having crashed. In a plane designed to be run by computers, these crashed, then screamed nonstop, "You're gonna die!" just when the pilots most needed their help.

Here's my message: Dumb these computers down; let pilots be pilots. Or trust your family's lives to mutinous electrons over human neurons. We invite you to read the full story in Murder By Computer: The Hidden Perils of Air Travel.

Correction: I miswrote in my first post that CTL ALTN LAW meant multiple flight control computers had failed. It means: "Multiple systems malfunctioned."