Flight 9252: Witness report from the opposite side of the mountain

One of the first witnesses of the Flight 9252 crash, reported something odd. At first she was not aware what it was. In fact, she thought it sounded like a small earthquake or something heavy falling. Later that day, she heard about the plane crash.

Airbus-A320-plane-crashes-in-French-Alps-Cockpit-Voice-Recorder-Is-FoundLet us look again at the topography of the region. In a previous post we discussed it in more detail (link). The witness Rejane is in the La Foux d’Allos ski resort. Her office is here [Isatis]. From her office to the top of the Tete de L’Estrop is about 4km. The crash site is on the other side of the Tete de L’Estrop (in the Galebre valley).

Notice how the witness does not describe the crash of the plane directly. This isn’t odd, as sound can travel far in mountain areas, but not well across high mountains.

3_bildGoing back to what I consider to be the most likely theory (captain Sonderheimer crashes the plane, frames Lubitz, and escapes himself in an ejection cabin), is it possible Rejane in fact heard the landing of the ejection cabin? The ejection cabin (a large one, likely for 2 or 3 persons) is rocketed on the right side of the plane at least in the direction of La Foux d’Allos. To understand if this is possible, the most important factor is not distance, but rather the lay-out of mountain valleys throughout an area. Sound does not travel well across mountains, but it can echoe far through a valley.

It is not possible that Rejane heard the plane actually crash into the mountain. Between the crash site and Rejane’s office in La Foux d’Allos, there is a massive mountain (Tete L’Estrop) with several peaks higher then 2800m. I studied the terrain on google maps (link) and simply do not see how sound from the West of Tete L’Estrop could reach a small village to the East. There is a huge mountain mass in between, with nothing (not even a small mountain pass) below 2400m (link). Still, Rejane heard a heavy low sound when the plane crashed, like something heavy was falling down the mountain (lawine/avalanche). Is it possible witness Ms Rejane (from La Foux d’Allos) did hear the sound of the cabin landing?

Where could this ejection cabin have landed? We know the direction of the crashing plane. Around 10.40h the cabin should be launched from the plane. As it was launched from a plane that was flying at about 700 km/h in the direction of the Tete de L’Estrop, that is also the speed and directionality of the cabin (t=1). This speeds and directionality needs to be corrected by the impact of a rocketering force steering it upwards and further to the right (East). Unfortunately, I am no rocket scientist. I can only consider what I would have asked rocket scientists to design (and they likely took years to plan this).

What would I have done? If I were them? I would launch the cabin across a mountain to the next valley (out of sight!), preferrably at an “easy to cross” part of the mountain range; making sure it would land far away from any real estate or ski piste; preferably on terrain that is not too steep (a soft landing); and is accesible yet quiet. Is there any terrain nearby that matches these criteria? [And these conditions should also be rather predictable/stable, as scientists work years on these kinds of plans]

Option 1. For instance, after Beaujeu, when the height of the plane is about 1400m (to land level) the terrain to the right of the flight path seems to match the criteria. There is even a small pass called ravin des combes“. This is relatively close to the airplane’s route and not too steep. In fact, once across the highest part (only about 1380m), the moutain slope down on the other side is not too steep. There is a road up to 1125 metres height on the other side, which makes it relatively easy to recover and remove an ejection cabin unnoticed. If they decide to let the cabin land just after this ravin des combes, it would land in wooded area with on three sides higher grounds. I did find one farm house nearby (link). And this is the “road” leading up to 1125m, seen from the main road D107 (link). I have no proof they did it like this, but it certainly is possible.

To see if Rejane could have heard it, we now simply study the terrain on google maps, knowing sound echoes between mountains, and thus travels down valleys. The speed of sound is 343 m/s and it can travel far in a mountain area. Loud noise can travel down the valley north up to Pas de L’Uscla (link). Though between the Pas de L’Uscla and village La Foux d’Allos, I am not convinced sound will travel across the terrain upwards and down into the valley again.

Option 2. Across the “Tete L’Estrop”. This option would require precise launch timing and control of the cabin trajectory, yet this location is closer to the village of La Foux d’Allos. The best alternative I can think of, is also the most scary. It requires a last seconds launch from the Airbus, to land the ejection cabin on the other side of the Tete L’Estrop on the Glacier de la Blanche. The crew members left the cargo compartment likely a few seconds before the crash. The cabin is launched upwards and sideways to the right of the plane flight path. As the cabin at the time of launching has the same speed as the plane, its trajectory will to some extend resemble the direction and speed of the plane. Once they cross the Tete L’Estrop, a parachute will slow them down, so they can land on the glacier ice. This area just behind the Tete L’Estrop is not visible to anyone. Its conditions are predictable (a glacier), so engineers can optimize design. As not soon after multiple helicopters with rescue workers will start working on the crash site, no-one will ask questions about what a helicopter might be doing up there. And even for other rescue workers, what a helikopter would do there precisely, is out of sight (other side of the peak).

You can’t believe the rescue helikopter story going unnoticed? An alternative is, that they adjusted the airbag underneath the cabin (the airbag is like a rubberboat popping up from underneath the cabin, that stops the fall when landing). It should be able to slide on the ice downwards on the glacier towards 1700 metres, following the La Blanche de Laverq. At 1700m there is a road (it only leads to a walking trail towards the glacier). So the cabin becomes a bobsledge, sliding down towards the small road L’Oreillet well hidden in a ravin. A small truck can pick-up the cabin and crew without being seen. In short, with an endless budget and access to militairy resources, there are options available in these mountan areas. The be honest, I find this last option the most likely scenario.

No dear readers, I do not know for certain, where the ejection cabin might have landed. I am sure a team of specialists can find a perfect trajectory and landing location for an ejection cabin. This would be East of the crash site. I do know it is more likely that witness Ms Rejane heard something heavy land on her side of the mountain Tete L’Estrop, than that she heard the airplane crash itself (given the terrain). Mind you, these ejection cabins are actually designed to land where-ever is needed.

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