Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

If you’re going to lie about the news, at least make sure it’s plausable..

Posted in Uncategorized by Skepdude on June 2, 2009


In case you have not heard by now, an Air France flight from Brazil to France has was lost over the South Atlantic several hundred miles off the cost of South America.  All passengers are believed lost and the cause of the apparent crash has not yet been determined.   While this is a sad and tragic event, it seems that some are already making up sensational stories to grab attention.

Via Wikinews:

According to the Portugese newspaper Jornal de Notícias, several passengers on board Air France Flight 447 sent text messages to family members shortly before the plane disappeared from radar screens in Brazil. The flight was scheduled to arrive in Paris at 11:10 CET on June 1, 2009.

The messages included “I love you” and “I’m afraid.” So far authorities in Brazil and France have yet to find the wreckage of the plane which disappeared from radar at approximately 01:30 GMT on June 1. There were 228 people on board the plane.

This story has apparently been circulating on Norweigian and Portugese media outlets.   It hasn’t made it to any major English language news sources (that I know of) as of yet.   This is exactly the kind of tear-jerking, morbid, dramatic news that sells papers.    It is the kind of legend that gets better and better over time.   (No doubt someone sent a text message asking that in their memory an e-mail chain letter be started.)

The problem:   This almost certainly simply did not happen.   It couldn’t have happened.    The aircraft in question was at least 400 statute miles from shore when it is believed to have first experienced trouble.   That makes it effectively impossible that a cell phone could have gotten a signal from any land-based cell towers.   Even sending a message via a cell phone when over land is a hit or miss proposition.  The aircraft’s metal structure makes getting a good signal difficult and an aircraft may come in and out of cell site coverage within seconds.

It’s possible that a satellite phone could have sent a text message from the region, but satellite phones and messagers require clear line of sight to the satellite to communicate and would not be able to send a message from within an aircraft.   Satellite signals are weak to begin with and the aluminum skin of the aircraft would make sending a text message effectively impossible, except in the extremely unlikely circumstance that a passenger had a straight shot at the satellite out their window.    Even if this were the case, the South Atlantic is not well covered by satellite service and no handheld satellite phones have extensive coverage in the area except for Iridium, which is a very large phone that one is unlikely to have on their person.


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