Aircraft Accidents and an Underwater View

Last week I spoke about my interview; it concerned the search for EgyptAir Flight 804 in the Mediterranean Sea. One question asked spoke to the condition of debris found on the surface, most likely human remains and composite materials that float.
I made the comment that an airliner hitting the water doesn’t penetrate the surface like and Olympic diver. Instead, if not adequately broken up prior to impact, it will surely be torn apart by impact forces; that contact with the water – depending much on the angle and speed – will break the airframe up even further.
But what happens under the surface of the water? What are they looking for?
Chances are good that the airframe and engines will no longer resemble anything near an airliner. When we look at the Titanic on the ocean floor we see – accounting for the years of disintegration – a large ship that is in recognizable shape, even down the railings and woodwork. However, the Titanic did not impact the surface at speeds exceeding 200 MPH.
An aircraft’s structure would resemble more of a crushed tin can. The moment the airliner hits the water surface, the aircraft will compress being mostly an air filled cabin and structure unprepared for the forces being placed on it. The ocean will not compress – if we remember our physics, liquids and solids are not compressible. After it goes below the surface, it will no longer resemble an aircraft.
This break up will likely separate the wings and engines and possibly the tail. As they each go their separate ways to the sea bed, they will follow different paths as they tumble or corkscrew through the depths to the bottom. The floor is not flat like where the Titanic rests; it is covered with hills, mountains and cliffs resembling some of our highest ranges and lowest valleys. These rock formations are even more unpredictable after years of erosion by strong ocean currents. The airliner’s remains can be hidden by these crags and mountainsides, invisible to any man-made search device. The land formations can also distort the black box signals as they echo through the underwater mountain ranges.
An underwater search is never simple and the media should make sure their audience knows what’s at stake in a mere four-week search window before the black boxes go silent.

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