It's grim news...

Air France Airbus A330-200 aircraft, similar to the one used for Flight 447
Air France Airbus A330-200 aircraft, similar to the one used for Flight 447Courtesy Christopher Weyer
It's grim news, but the autopsies of the 51 bodies recovered from the June 1 Air France Flight 447 crash in the Atlantic Ocean reveal that the crash victims did not drown. Why is this important? It is looking more and more unlikely that the black boxes from the crash will be recovered (though submarine searches for them will resume next week). So, investigators have to turn to all the other bits of evidence they have to determine the cause of the crash, including clues that can be found in the condition of the recovered bodies.

You can learn a lot from a cadaver recovered from a plane crash. Bits of debris impeded inside bodies can indicate an explosion. The type and location of injury (on the right side or left side of the body) used in conjunction with a seating chart can help pinpoint where an explosion or event might have originated on the plane. Are the bodies burned on the front (indicating a fire in the cabin while the passenger would still be seated with the back protected by their seat) or on their backs (perhaps indicating that they were burned by fire on the ground or floating out of their seats). Are they clothed? Studies have shown that a fully clothed person will have their clothes “blasted off” when they hit the water, which would indicate that the bodies had been ejected from the plane while in the air. And lack of drowning likely indicates that the passengers were dead before, or were killed as a result of, a water impact.

If you are interested in learning more about cadavers and what you can learn with and from them, check out the book Stiff by Mary Roach, it’s an interesting read.

The bodies that are being recovered show no signs of being in an explosion, so that is being ruled out as the cause of the crash at this point. Authorities now believe that the plane was intact when it hit the water, but the cause of the crash is still not known.

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