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Was Air France flight brought down by turbulence or hail?

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Was Air France flight 447 brought down by a 100 m.p.h. updraft?

Or were its two jet engines snuffed out by hail or heavy rains?

In the absence of a black box, the leading theory now is that the Airbus 330-200 was brought down by a 300-mile-wide band of tropical thunderstorms that it could fly neither around nor over.

Brazil's defense minister confirmed Tuesday afternoon that military planes found a three-mile path of wreckage in the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian archipelago.

Professional pilots and meteorologists are digging through the available data – flight routes, satellite images, aircraft specifications, and weather reports – and spinning out several likely causes.

One of the most detailed and cogent pieces of analysis of Flight 447’s last minutes – winning the praise of pilots around the world – is a blog by Tim Vasquez.

Mr. Vasquez is a former US Air Force meteorologist. He now consults and publishes weather forecasting texts and software.

Vasquez plots the likely flight path of Air France 447 and overlays it on satellite imagery and weather reports in the area at the time:

It appears AF447 crossed through three key thunderstorm clusters: a small one around 0151Z, a new rapidly growing one at about 0159Z, and finally a large multicell convective system (MCS) around 0205-0216Z. Temperature trends suggested that the entire system was at peak intensity …
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