JUst discovered that Pihero is participating in this thread, good, we cannot get any closer to what was probably going on in an Air France cockpit and on the ground.
From what I understand the plane has landed in Damascus at 22h29 local time, i.e. one hour after it's ETA in Beirut. That may give an indication of how much time it may have spent circling in the air thinking about what to do.
In the end, I don't understand a couple of things and if Pihero or someone else could shed some light on it that'd be splendid:
1) What are the elements that have led the pilots to favour Amman over Larnaca in the first place? Is it credible that LCA
was "saturated"? I'd believe the saturation element if other airports in the region were also closed and sending a lot of diverted planes to LCA
, but I don't think that was the case. So if LCA
was just dealing with its normal traffic plus the one diverted Air France flight, how can it be saturated? Or does normal traffic in LCA
lead to saturation, which would then be known before, in which case the interesting question is why it was designated as an alternate?
2) When did they realize that they didn't have enough fuel to go to Amman? Was it when circling over Beirut? In which case the choice would have been one between "going to Larnaca and declaring an emergency, and they'd let us land even if it's a bit tight on the ground" and "trying to go to Amman, but if it doesn't work out we may end up having to land in the middle of a country in the midst of civil war". Or maybe there would have been another option, which would be to deviate to Paphos for instance, or some place on the Turkish South coast. Sure, they weren't designated alternates, but neither was Damascus, so the choice between going to an undesignated alternate in a safe country vs. one in the middle of a war zone should be obvious.
3) Or did they realize that they didn't have enough fuel only once they were already on their way to Amman? Which would imply that they got the bad news of air space closure only after having reached a point of no return to Amman. But then how could they engage on Amman in the first place? The choice would have been between "do we try Amman even though we may not get the routing for which we have enough fuel, which will then force us to land in Damascua" and "let's still head to Cyprus"
4) Once they had refuelled in Damascus, why didn't they continue to Amman as originally planned? Why then change minds and go to Larnaca?
5) How are alternates picked and planned for? As much as I know planes must have enough fuel to reach their alternate plus some time for holding and so on, so that low fuel situation should never have arisen, right? Unless they overstretched their holding time, which then left not enough fuel to go to Amman?
6) Do planes carry approach maps even of airports that are not designated alternates? I was on an Air France B777 a couple of weeks ago and was allowed to visit the cockpit during taxi and takeoff, and noticed that they didn't have tablets / electronic flight bags. So any map material would need to be carried physically as paper in folders. Would that restrict the number of maps that are carried?
I somehow have the feeling that we don't know all the elements to form ourselves an opinion about whether or not the choice of the "Amman as an alternate including the probability of having to land in Syria" was a poor choice.
That "the pilot considered ditching the plane into the sea" must be absolute B*S and a creation of somebody trying to make the story sound more interesting (extremely common in that part of the world). I think before ditching the plane into the sea they would have landed in Beirut. It also supports many people in Lebanon probably feeling miffed that their own country is suddenly perceived more dangerous than Syria, so they have to dramatize it all a bit.