A French airliner plunged out of control for four minutes before crashing into the Atlantic in 2009, investigators said, in a report raising questions about how crew handled a “stall alarm” blaring out in the cabin.

Information gleaned from black boxes, and recovered almost two years after the disaster killed 228 people, confirmed that speed readings in the Airbus cockpit had gone haywire, believed to be linked to the icing of speed sensors outside the jet.

As Air France pilots fought for control, the doomed A330 dropped 38,000 feet, rolling left to right, its engines flat out but its wings unable to grab enough air to keep flying.

The plane crashed on June 1, 2009, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Black boxes stopped recording at 0214 GMT.

France’s BEA crash investigation agency said in a detailed chronology of the crash that commands from the controls of the 32-year-old junior pilot on board had pulled the nose up as the aircraft became unstable and generated an audible stall warning.

Aviation industry sources told Reuters that this action went against the normal procedures which call for the nose to be lowered in response to an alert that the plane was about to lose lift or, in technical parlance, ‘stall’.

This type of aerodynamic stall is nothing to do with a stall in the engines, both of which kept working as crew requested.

“A stall is the moment at which a plane stops flying and starts falling,” said David Learmount, operations and safety editor at the British aviation publication Flight International.

A top aircraft industry safety consultant said the standard guidance in the Airbus pilot manual called in this event for the pilot to lower the nose by pushing the control stick forward.

“The BEA is now going to have to analyze and get to bottom of how crew handled this event,” said Paul Hayes, safety director at Ascend Aviation, a UK-based aviation consultancy.

“The big question in my mind is why did the pilot flying (the aircraft) appear to continue to pull the nose up,” he said.

French investigators said the emergency began with the autopilot disengaging itself two and a half hours into the flight and the junior pilot, who had been in control at take-off, picked up manually and saying “I have control.”

The autopilot appears to have responded to a loss of reliable airspeed information. This was accompanied moments later by the disembodied voice of a recorded “stall” alert.

It is what happened next that is likely to fuel most theories on what preceded the crash, but Air France and its main pilots union insisted faulty speed probes were the root cause.

In a passage likely to attract particular scrutiny, the BEA said the pilot “maintained” the nose-up command despite fresh stall warnings 46 seconds into the four-minute emergency.

“The inputs made by the pilot flying were mainly nose-up,” the report added.

The Airbus jet climbed 3,000 feet to 38,000 feet despite the crew having decided earlier against a climb, and then began a dramatic descent, with the youngest pilot handing control to the second most senior pilot a minute before impact.

The captain returned after “several attempts” to call him back to the cockpit but was not at the controls in the final moments, according to information gleaned from black boxes.

By the time the 58-year-old returned, just over a minute into the emergency, the aircraft was in serious trouble: plunging at 10,000 feet a minute with its nose pointing up 15 degrees and at too high an angle to the air to recapture lift.

The BEA did not provide extracts of the transcript for the last minute before the jet hit the water with its nose up.

It promised a fuller interim report which could say more about the causes of the crash in July.

SLIGHT TURBULENCE AHEAD

Relatives of victims had waited long for the report.

“It’s very emotional to see the unrolling minute by minute or second by second at some points of what happened,” said John Clemes, vice president of the families’ support group.

“You automatically think of your family member and how they were living through this. It’s the events that caused the deaths of 228 people so it’s traumatic and moving.”

The BEA report put to rest speculation that the pilots recklessly flew into the center of an equatorial storm cell.

Pilots had decided calmly to alter course slightly to avoid turbulence shortly before the crisis. But the pilot did tell flight attendants to prepare for a “little bit of turbulence.”

“In two minutes we should enter an area where it’ll move about more than at the moment; you should watch out,” he told cabin staff. “I’ll call you back as soon as we’re out of it.”

Air France said the crew had displayed a “totally professional attitude” and stayed committed to the end.

The crew’s response to stall warnings contrasts with advice to pilots contained in an Airbus training seminar in October last year, according to a document obtained by Reuters.

In large red capital letters, the slide presentation says that in the event of a stall warning, pilots should “APPLY NOSE DOWN PITCH CONTROL TO REDUCE AOA (ANGLE OF ATTACK).”

Two aviation industry sources said the drill in force at the time of the accident was to apply full thrust and reduce the pitch attitude of the aircraft, which means lowering the nose.

Later guidance calls for pilots to push the nose down and adjust thrust as necessary, they said, asking not to be named.

Despite the apparent anomaly, aviation experts said it was early and most probably far-fetched to blame the miscommands — so basic one compared it to hitting the accelerator instead of the brake when facing a car collision — on a conscious error.

“One of the weird things about this is that the aircraft was definitely stalled, because the crew had had a stall warning, but they were not doing anything to recover from the stall,” Learmount said. “It was almost as if they didn’t know the aircraft was stalled, because they could have recovered.”

The report and a more detailed follow-up are eagerly awaited by lawyers representing victims’ families, but cannot be used in many courts. A separate French criminal probe is also under way.

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10 Androids That Outmuscle the iPhone


Apple’s iPhone had a good run atop the smartphone league, but 10 Google Androids aim to bury the tuckered-out leader this year.
Motorola Mobility, Samsung, HTC and LG have promised to deliver supercharged, ultra-thin, 4G Android devices in the coming weeks and months.

But not always. Before the mobile phone industry got all busy with design makeovers and tummy tucks, there were — and still are — some delightfully hideous phones that represented the other side of the beauty trend. The Street has gone back through the past decade to dig up some of the best examples of designs that make you wince and stare in disbelief. The clueless stylings, the flights of fancy into odd shapes, the obsession with square versus rounded — it is a wonderfully colorful history.

The giant Android attack features bigger screens, better cameras, faster processors and speedier 4G connections than the upcoming iPhone.

The Android’s phone screens, for example, start at 4 inches and go to 4.5 inches, advancing the size standard for this generation of touchscreens. By comparison, Apple’s next iPhone is expected to have a 3.5-inch screen.

The new Androids are 4G phones either on AT&T HSDPA-Plus network or Verizon’s LTE network, and four of the 10 will come with dual core processors.

Apple, on the other hand, is expected to upgrade to a dual-core processor this year, but the 4G LTE iPhone has been delayed to 2012, as first reported.

The presumed delay of the next iPhone from June to September, and the decision to wait a year on 4G LTE upgrade highlight just a few of the areas where Apple has been lagging behind the leaders in the Android pack.

“The processor and display quality improvement in the Android camp is proceeding at such a clip that Apple will be under a lot of pressure to deliver a substantial jump in iPhone specs next autumn,” MKM Partners’ analyst Tero Kuittinen.

“It’s not clear how Apple can battle the rapid Android evolution,” says Kuittinen, “unless it picks up the pace of its iPhone launches.”

Here’s a look at the top 10 Androids that could dwarf the iPhone:

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Samsung Nexus S

Samsung Nexus S, Sprint
This is Google’s second run at making its own phone, only this time Samsung is manufacturing the device and Sprint is selling it. Two years ago, the Nexus One was made by HTC and sold online by Google. It was an experiment in retailing that was far less revolutionary than Google hoped.

The Nexus S runs on Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system and works on Sprint’s WiMax 4G service. Because it is a phone built to Google’s specifications, it includes some of Google’s favorite projects including NFC or near field communications that may one day allow phones to make purchases with a swipe at a sales counter.

The Nexus phones are big among Android fans who see them as more purely Android than other versions in the market. The Gingerbread system has been a little hard to find and the Nexus S will continue to be among the most advanced Androids until Ice Cream Sandwich arrives as early as year-end.

LG Optimus

LG Optimus
The LG Optimus is one of the sleeker members of the new Android class. Even though it has a 4-inch screen, the phone is nearly a third of an inch thick, and at 3.8 ounces, it is a full ounce lighter than the iPhone.

The LG Optimus runs on Android 2.2 or Froyo and is powered by a 1-gigahertz OMAP processor from Texas Instruments, one of the key wins for TI in the most recent round of Androids.

The LG Optimus is expected to debut in Europe this month and arrive in the U.S. later this year. AT&T and possibly T-Mobile will likely get the phone since it is configured for the HSDPA network.

Samsung Droid Charge

Samsung Droid Charge, Verizon
After a little delay, No. 2 phone maker Samsung finally gets into Verizon’s Droid franchise and continues the robotic theme for another year.

The Droid Charge runs on Android 2.2, has a 4.3-inch LED screen and is powered by a 1-gigahertz Samsung Cortex A8 processor. According to analysts, Samsung has built the phone to consume about half as much battery power than its 4G LTE predecessor the HTC Thunderbolt.

Another area where it exceeds the Thunderbolt is on price. Verizon has a $300 price tag on the phone with a two-year contract.

Samsung Function, Verizon

Samsung Function, Verizon
Samsung is pushing hard to get on the 4G LTE bandwagon where Verizon has a speedy lead over the rest of the telco field. The Function is a member of the Samsung Galaxy family and a follow up to the 3G Fascinate, which debuted last year at Verizon.

The Function is a truly muscular phone. It runs on Android Gingerbread, it is powered by a dual-core 1.2-gigahertz processor, with 1-gigabyte of memory and another 32-gigabytes of built-in storage. And the 8-megapixel camera shoots 1080p HD video.

The Function is due later this year, and depending on the timing, may be one of the more formidable opponents to the iPhone next iPhone.

Motorola Mobility Targa, Verizon

Motorola Mobility Targa, Verizon
Speaking of formidable, Motorola Mobility apparently wasn’t happy with how the Bionic was coming together and reworked the phone under the code name Targa. Bionic was expected to be the blockbuster 4G LTE phone for Verizon from Motorola, and aimed not just at the iPhone but at the Android superphones from Samsung and HTC.

There’s not much information about what powers the Targa, but the specs are likely to be similar to the Bionic. That list would include a dual-core processor, and an 8-megapixel camera.

Verizon and Motorola were expected to have the Bionic available by the end of June, but a revamped Targa will likely be a pre-holiday fall arrival. This would also pit it squarely against the next iPhone.

HTC Sensation, AT&T

HTC Sensation
When and if it arrives at T-Mobile, the HTC Sensation promises to be a big step up from the HTC Thunderbolt. And that’s no small feat. The Sensation is expected to have one of the first dual-core 1.2-gigahertz Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, which holds big promise for Qualcomm.

The Sensation has a 4.3-inch display, a 8-megapixel camera and it runs on Android’s Gingerbread operating system. The phone has an aluminum unibody structure, a trend Apple started with its laptops.

The Sensation runs on the HSDPA network that AT&T and T-Mobile call 4G. The phone is expected to arrive as early as next month.

LG Revolution, Verizon

LG Revolution, Verizon
LG’s focus on feature phones made it a weak player in the smartphone game, but the Korean electronics giant now wants to make up for lost ground in the super-phone category.

The LG Revolution is the heaviest of the five Androids, weighing 6 ounces. But it carries the weight well in a sleek half-inch-thick form with a large 4.3-inch display screen.

The phone runs on Qualcomm Snapdragon 1-gigahertz processor and has a whopping 16 gigabytes of storage. It has two cameras, one front-facing for video chats and the rear a less-than-robust 5-megapixel shooter.

The Revolution is a 4G LTE phone that was expected to start selling at Verizon in the first quarter.

Samsung Infuse, AT&T

Samsung Infuse, AT&T
Samsung seems to be trying extra hard to be the iPhone replacement for AT&T. By appearances, the Samsung Infuse looks very much like a large version of the iPhone 4, at least from the front.

Samsung had reasonable success with Android phones in its Galaxy series; with the Infuse, it hopes to take that one more step higher. The phone has a massive 4.5-inch super-AMOLED-plus screen that is designed to provide better resolution and easier daylight viewing.

The Infuse runs on a speedy 1.2-gigahertz Hummingbird single-core processor. Its front-facing camera is a wimpy 1.3-megapixels, but the rear camera captures 8-megapixels. The Infuse runs on the HSDPA-Plus wireless technology, which AT&T started calling 4G.

The Infuse, sort of like the 5-inch Dell Streak, attempts to push the limits of super-phone sizes in an effort to skirt the fringes of the larger tablet market.

AT&T starts selling the Infuse this spring.

HTC Thunderbolt, Verizon

HTC Thunderbolt, Verizon
We got our hands on the HTC Thunderbolt when it arrived in March. Its speed is astonishing, but its battery life is terrible.

The Thunderbolt has the best name of the new crop of 4G devices that Verizon has introduced so far. The Thunderbolt looks very much like HTC’s popular EVO at Sprint, with the same convex back and kickstand.

The Thunderbolt runs on Qualcomm’s 1-gigahertz Snapdragon processor, has a 4.3-inch screen and a front-facing camera as well as an 8-megapixel rear camera. All those specs, by the way, are identical to its 4G WiMax brother, the EVO at Sprint.

The difference with the Thunderbolt is that it runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. The Thunderbolt arrived in March quarter and was hailed as the first Verizon 4G LTE phone.

Motorola Atrix, AT&T

Motorola Atrix, AT&T
If there was one phone that caught the most attention at CES, it was the Motorola Atrix, which AT&T had been promoting like crazy.

This Atrix uses a dual-core Nvidia processor like its sister phone the Bionic, and has similar specs. But it also features 1-gigabyte of RAM, the same deployed by small laptops. And curiously, that’s how Motorola is pitching this device — as a pocket computer.

During the Motorola demonstration, the Atrix was docked in an empty laptop shell, which, powered by a keyboard and big screen, made the Atrix the core of a notebook computer. The Atrix is designed to serve as both your super-phone and through a docking system, your PC.

With processing power and memory comparable to a netbook, the Atrix may help push Motorola devices further into the workplace, bumping up against Research In Motion and Hewlett-Packard’s Palm business.

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World’s Best Ruins

World’s Best Ruins

Ruins reach across centuries to fire the imagination and fuel travel plans. The very best make you feel young, small, and utterly amazed by the architectural chops of the ancients. Among the many amazing ruins that still exist today, a few stand out as the trip of a lifetime.

No matter which ruins you visit, a few rules hold true: Time your trip for the less crowded times of day, often early or late. Give yourself plenty of time, as some ruins require days of exploration. Hire a knowledgeable guide, since the history is rich but the signage is often cursory. And get beyond the most popular parts of the ruin; you’ll need a bit of quiet space to appreciate this kind of ancient majesty.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The journey to Machu Picchu is epic even with relatively newfangled transportation like trains. But each year, about 25,000 people forgo the more direct routes and walk for days along the 27-mile Inca Trail to reach the ruin. Since its rediscovery a century ago, this treasure of the Inca set high in a cloud forest of the Peruvian Andes has captured imaginations worldwide. The massive stone blocks tell the story of both a sprawling agricultural zone with terracing and ancient food storehouses and an urban zone replete with temples, squares, tombs, and living quarters. If you’re considering a trek to Machu Picchu, plan ahead: You can only make the hike with a licensed company, and spots book up quickly, especially in high season.

Acropolis, Greece
Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

Acropolis, Greece

Waiting for the traffic to speed past at a crowded intersection in Athens, you’re likely to forget that history keeps constant watch over the city. Glance up, however, and you’ll catch the view Athenians and visitors alike have been admiring for the last 2,500 years. Time has battered the once-pristine temples and gates that crown the hill of the Acropolis, leaving stone ruins that retain a familiar splendor even after thousands of years of wear and destruction. The elegant proportions of the fifth-century B.C. Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike—both dedicated to the city’s patron deity—are a reminder of how much we still rely on ancient Greece for our concepts of beauty.

Mesa Verde, United States
Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

Mesa Verde, United States

Great ruins aren’t always an ocean away: Some of the best preserved Native American cliff dwellings in North America reside in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Home to the Ancestral Puebloans—whose descendants became 20 different Southwestern tribes, including the Hopi and Zuni—Mesa Verde traces 700 years of history across 4,000 archeological sites. Visit mesa-top pueblos and the dwellings built beneath massive overhanging cliffs. Ascend steep trails and ladders, or crawl through tunnels to explore ancient architecture such as the 150-room Cliff Palace or the hard-to-reach Balcony House. The park’s hours vary by season, and not all sites are open year-round.

Angkor, Cambodia
Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

Angkor, Cambodia

War or natural disaster might have weakened the Khmer Empire’s ancient capital, but ultimately, it was the jungle that conquered this ninth- to fifteenth-century urban center. Today, the densely forested 150-square-mile Angkor Archaeological Park protects part of a vast cluster of ancient capitals, many of which remain buried. The park’s most famous temple, Angkor Wat, is the world’s largest religious building. But the park’s dozens of other ruins, including Bayon temple with its wall of 11,000 carved figures, offer quieter glimpses into the art and architecture of this culturally rich 600-year period.

Great Pyramids And Memphis, Egypt
Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

Great Pyramids And Memphis, Egypt

Political unrest or no, a roundup of the world’s best ruins can’t exclude Egypt. The last existing ancient wonder of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza stands as a lone window into the far past. With more than 4,000 years to ponder the question, experts still can’t agree on how the builders placed more than 2 million stone blocks so perfectly. The rest of the Giza Necropolis holds more wonders: two more Great Pyramids, built during 80 years by 20,000 to 30,000 workers, plus the Great Sphinx, cemeteries, and the ruins of a village. The pyramids are part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage site that includes Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. A trip can even include some up-close-and-personal time: Visitors can explore the interiors of some of the pyramids. And the recent drop in tourism offers intrepid travelers the rare chance to experience the pyramids without the usual crowds.

Tikal, Guatemala
Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

Tikal, Guatemala

Stay overnight in the national park for the ultimate experience at Tikal, an ancient Maya city in northern Guatemala that was home to 90,000 people before being abandoned in the tenth century. Early the next morning, before the park opens to the general public, join a small group making the trek through a jungle awash in the pre-dawn symphony of birds and insects. Climb to the top of Temple IV, the Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent, to witness a sunrise that reveals ancient temples and pyramids rising from the verdant forest blanket. You’ve still got hours to explore this vast complex of pyramids, temples, and plazas before the big crowds roll in. Along the way, catch glimpses of brown coatis, toucans, howler monkeys, and some of the hundreds of other species to call Tikal home.

Petra, Jordan
Photo: Thinkstock/Photos.com

Petra, Jordan

Hailed as a “rose-red city half as old as time” in a 19th-century poem, the ancient city of Petra was half built and half carved into red sandstone cliffs. Nabataean Arabs established the city in the sixth century B.C., and for hundreds of years it thrived as a trade center for frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Now, as then, enter the ruins of the city through a narrow, half-mile-long gorge squeezed between cliffs nearly 300 feet high. Inside, explore architecturally elaborate tombs and temples, sacrificial altars, and even a Roman-style amphitheater. Most people explore on foot, but visitors can also ride camels and donkeys. The sun lights up the red cliffs of Petra most dramatically in mid-morning and late afternoon, so be sure to time your visit accordingly.

Colosseum, Italy
Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera

Colosseum, Italy

Digitally reimagined in Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator, the camera really shaves millennia off Rome’s Colosseum. But the 2,000-year-old ruins are so evocative up close that special effects seem superfluous. With a bloody history of fights to the death between gladiators, slaves, prisoners, and wild animals, the Colosseum held 50,000 spectators or more in its heyday. Later, Romans used the abandoned arena as a quarry: Stones from the Colosseum are part of the cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran. Last summer, entirely new sections of the ruin—including the basement— were opened for tours.

Great Wall Of China, China
Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera

Great Wall Of China, China

Like a dragon, the Great Wall of China slithers its way across the landscape for about 4,500 miles, and, like a dragon, the wall protects something treasured. Constructed to shelter China’s people and culture from the outside world, the “Long Wall of 10 Thousand Li” was built during 2,000 years by many imperial dynasties. While some parts of the wall are in ruins or have disappeared entirely, other sections have been restored or preserved. The most popular section today is the Badaling Great Wall, close to Beijing. Slightly farther from the capital city and offering a more rugged (and less crowded) experience is the Great Wall at Mutianyu. In Qinhuangdao City, the Laolongtou Great Wall actually stretches into the sea, and is said to resemble a dragon drinking water.

Palmyra, Syria

Twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, the Bride of the Desert blushes, even 18 centuries after her birth. Palmyra, also known as Tadmor, is in the desert northeast of Damascus, Syria, and was once a wealthy caravan oasis along the Silk Road, linking Persia, India, and China with the Roman Empire. At a crossroads of cultures, the ruins of grand colonnaded streets, temples, funerary towers, and aqueducts demonstrate a mingling of influences that made this an awfully cosmopolitan place for the second century. Palmyra was also home to the warrior queen and conqueror Zenobia, and tour guides tell exciting tales that give this seemingly isolated place a starring role in world history.