Air France emergency near Geneva

An Air France flight from Paris to Madagascar, when passing West of Geneva, issued an emergency transmission detected here today, Friday 13 April (!) , then turned back to Paris.


20120413_AFR3578.JPGThe Air France Airbus A340-313, registered as F-GLZT, was used for the flight AF3578 from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to Madagascar. After taking off at 11h08 am it was flying west of Geneva when, after just ove an hour of flying, it issued a general emergency warning. When over Valence it did a U-turn to fly back to Paris, passing near Lyon, then circling near Dijon.

These emergency transmissions can easily be picked up within well over 100 km of Geneva. In this case the emergency code was 7700, specifying a general emergency: these happen quite frequently, and may be tracked via tweets issued via a web site called flightradar24.com. As I write this, the flightradar site has an even more recent emergency: a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to London. In this case also, the aircraft turned back (to Frankfurt). That makes two already on this Friday 13!

If anyone sets up to see these tweets, then the flightradar24.com site is quite handy for checking what happens with these emergencies, since it can show a track of the flight. Not all flights turn back, or even divert to a nearby airport. However, in most cases we never obtain much, if any, information on what was the emergency.

There are three emergency codes, 7500, 7600 and 7700. This 7700 code is the most frequent one to be sent: it might indicate some abnormal situation (such as smoke in the cockpit, or an indication of a possible technical problem). The 7600 code is what our US cousins call a NORDO (NO RaDiO) situation: a loss of radio communications, and it may well require that air traffic control take special measures and give the aircraft priority.

The 7500 emergency code is one which is very seldom used: its official designation is of unlawful interference, most often a hijacking incident. With this use of tweets to inform any tweet receiver what emergencies are being declared, a hijacking incident would be known about very rapidly.

Although I have not seen any tweet, the UK Daily Telegraph paper has a report today that an "idiot" pilot of a civillian helicopter mistakenly sent out one of these hijacking incident codes. This had the result that two RAF Typhoo jets were scrambled and given permission to go supersonic. The resulting sonic boom, somewhere near Oxford, caused a certain amount of panic!

I wonder how many media people listen to these, and other emergency situation tweets!

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