Search for Air France Flight 447 Hindered By Garbage

trash Flight 447 search photo

Photo: jdj150 via Flickr

Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic ocean near Brazil this week. Rescue workers and officials are pessimistic that they will find the downed craft or the black box. The first major obstacle was that the aircraft was not on radar when it went down. That meant rescue workers had to look for floating debris and work their way back to the plane.

John Perry Fish of American Underwater Search and Survey on Cape Cod

They'll have to work with flotsam. You get the wind and current data and work back. You have to distinguish between the light material that is on the surface and exposed to the wind, and the buoyant material, which is floating, but just under the surface and not exposed to the winds.

But the ocean in that area is so garbage-filled that rescue workers are having trouble locating any signs of the plane among the floating piles of waste. Finding Garbage While Looking For Debris
Earlier in the week, rescue workers reported that they had found debris--two buoys and a cargo pallet--that had come from the plane, but it turned out to just be floating garbage. Officials worry that the trash will make it too difficult to locate the downed craft from the air. They plan to send in submarines as a last resort.

Trash Islands in Our Oceans
Ocean-bound refuse tends to congregate in gyres. There are about five major "trash islands" in the world. One of them, between North America and Asia, is twice the size of Texas. Air France Flight 447 did not go down in one of these major gyres. It fell into an area of minor trash congestion.

Ocean Life Disrupted By Garbage
Plastic waste accounts for 90% of all the waste in our oceans. It has a devastating impact on ocean life. Notably, sea turtles mistake the plastic bags for jellyfish and try to eat them. Birds also attempt to eat the floating chunklets of plastic.

The floating-garbage problem doesn't stop with marine life. The plastic acts as a sponge for harmful chemicals. The chemicals work their way through the food chain and end up in our food.

Finding Air France Flight 447
Although the plane may be lost and the chance of finding survivors is slim, the search has not been in vain. Six bodies have been recovered and can be buried near their homes and families.

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