The recent disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has drawn comparisons to the loss of Air France Flight 447 on June 1, 2009. Air France was on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. It was lost approximately 600 miles northeast of Natal, Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean, at a cost of 228 lives. While the precise location of the crash was known almost immediately, with pieces of wreckage and bodies recovered within days, it would take almost two years for the majority of the aircraft to be located on the bottom of the Atlantic and for the flight recorders to be recovered. Analysis of the flight recorder data confirmed early predictions about the cause of the accident. Icing on the aircraft pitot tube sensors caused speed sensors to report incorrect data, at which time the autopilot disengaged. The flight crew became confused by the loss of instrumentation, never fully realizing the exact nature of their situation. The actions of the crew resulted in a stall and a subsequent loss of controlled flight, the aircraft plunging 33,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. Recovery efforts over two long years resulted in finding the remains of the majority of the passengers and crew. No remains for 50 people were recovered, however. Those 50 remain forever lost at sea.
Two similar monuments on opposite sides of the Atlantic memorialize the lives lost. One monument is located in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The largest cemetery in Paris at 119 acres, this elegant cemetery holds the last earthly remains of thousands of souls, many the most famous in French and world history. Outside of Rio de Janeiro, on an ocean site facing the direct route to Paris, stands a similar monument. Both monuments feature an etched glass pane with 228 birds flying on the panes. The panes rest on black granite bases which list the names of all 228 lives lost. The etched glass contains the specifics of the accident and the home countries of the dead.
The location of the two monuments is both obvious and fortuitous. While they include the departure point and intended destination of Air France 447, these sites assure that thousands every year will visit the monuments. The symbolism of the birds on the glass panes is quite beautiful and meaningful – while the earthly lives of the crew and passengers of Air France 447 may have ended in the Atlantic Ocean, their souls have taken flight to their ultimate destinations.