Flight AF447: Airbus and Air France charged with manslaughter for the Rio-Paris crash in 2009

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The trial of two of France’s largest companies began on Monday on the crash of Air France flight 447 in 2009 who killed 228 passengers and crew.

The national airline and Airbus based in Toulouse

were charged with manslaughter for their role in the disaster across the Atlantic.

Both companies were placed under formal investigation in 2011 on similar charges by prosecutors trying to determine responsibility for the crash. But those charges were dropped in 2019 after eight years of judicial review. Now, largely under pressure from families and friends of the victims, they are back in court.

Air France denied that the company was responsible for the crash and said the charges should again be dismissed.

“Air France will continue to maintain, as it has always done, that it committed no criminal fault at the origin of this accident and will therefore plead in favor of the acquittal”, declared Claudia Chemarin, lawyer for the airline, in a press release. CNN.

Airbus made a similar statement to French newspaper La Tribune.

If he is found guilty, businesses each faces a fine of 225,000 euros ($219,000).

There was a mystery surrounding the crash of the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris from the start. For one thing, most fatal plane crashes occur during takeoff or landing: this disaster happened mid-flight.

Then there was the debris. When researchers first found parts of the plane floating in the South Atlantic 400 miles northeast of the Brazilian coast, they were in a relatively confined location. surface. A catastrophic loss of cabin pressure, or a bomb, would have scattered debris across miles of ocean.

The first parts recovered from the plane added to the mystery. Many, like the shelves in the kitchen, showed signs of damage from what experts called “compression down.” That is, the aircraft struck the seemingly flat water with extreme downward force, as if crashing into the water with little forward motion.

That’s what crash investigators ultimately concluded happened. France’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), which investigates plane crashes, found in 2012 that the plane was falling at more than 10,000 feet per minute when it hit the ocean, but that it had a ground speed of just 107 knots, or about 123 miles per hour, well below the Airbus A330’s stall speed.

BAE crash investigators concluded that the initial cause of the crash was icing of devices called pitot tubes, sensors essential for determining an aircraft’s speed and attitude. It was a problem that had plagued a few Airbus planes in the past, but which the company had not corrected.

Investigators found that once the sensors failed, the autopilot would disengage and the cockpit crew would lose reliable flight data readings. Because the senior pilot on board was on break, the two more junior co-pilots took over, flying the aircraft manually. Within seconds, one of the two at the controls raised his nose, apparently to gain altitude, but inadvertently put the A330 into a high-altitude stall.

Without sufficient forward speed, the Airbus began to fall like a stone. The two co-pilots signaled to the senior pilot to come and lend a hand. But from the cockpit voice recordings, it is evident that with no visual references in the dark night, with unreliable instruments, none of the three understood exactly why the plane was falling.

For four minutes, as the plane plummeted nearly 40,000 feet out to sea, the three men desperately tried to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it.

The charges against Airbus center on its failure to correct the known pitot tube problem. Air France is accused of not having trained the pilots on how to react to the type of situation the crew was faced with.

“To say today that only the pilots are at fault is too easy, it is very exaggerated and therefore it is not the truth,” Philippe Linguet, who lost his brother in the crash, told CNN on Friday. .

“We want to confront the defendants with their faults and if the court recognizes these faults, the Airbus and Air France defendants should be convicted,” he added.

The trial is expected to last until early December.

— Pierre Bairin contributed to this article.

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