In the trial for the accident of Flight AF447, both the manufacturer Airbus and the airline Air France have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary corporate manslaughter.
All 228 passengers of an Air France A330 flying flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, perished in the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009. The incident remains to be the worst Air France has ever experienced and the deadliest Airbus A330 crash.
The investigating judges ultimately decided to drop all charges in September 2019 following a 10-year investigation.
They came to the conclusion that “This accident is obviously due to a conjunction of elements that never occurred, and thus highlighted dangers that could not be perceived before this accident,” they concluded.
However, in May 2021, the Paris Court of Appeal mandated that Air France and Airbus be tried for involuntary manslaughter in response to a demand made by the Paris General Prosecutor.
The families of victims have been waiting for 13 years.
The case was revived by the Paris Criminal Court on October 10, 2022. In the presence of Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus, and Anne Rigail, CEO of Air France.
Despite the fact that the disaster “forever marks the collective history” of the airline, Rigail was the first to stand up and claim that the latter “did not commit a criminal fault at the origin of the accident.”
It was then Faury’s time to speak to the victims.
“I wanted to be present here first to show my deep respect, my deep consideration for the families and loved ones of the victims,” the executive chairman of Airbus. “Our mission is that all the people who get on an Airbus can get off the plane at the end of the flight in good health,” he added.
Air France and Airbus might be subject to fines of up to €225,000 if the courts conclude that they were guilty of a crime.
At around 2:00 a.m. local time on the evening of June 1, 2009, radar contact with flight AF447 was lost. 228 people vanished, sparking a mystery that would last for two years.
At the time, the loss seemed unimaginable. How could a cutting-edge commercial aircraft run by one of the safest airlines in the world just vanish?
By June 6, the Atlantic Ocean’s first floating chunks of debris had been discovered. Any hopes of the jet making a miracle landing or ditching were dismissed. No one survived the loss of Air France 447.
The investigation had little evidence to work with because there weren’t many floating pieces of debris. The flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR), the two most crucial pieces of evidence, were among the remaining wreckage that was submerged deep in the ocean.
Early on, sabotage was a possibility. The retrieved fragments, nevertheless, showed no signs of explosion damage. Even though the disaster didn’t seem to be intentional, only the debris could tell whether the plane was unharmed when it hit the ground.
The initial components found were compressed in a way that indicated the jet went down belly first, ruling out a nosedive. According to the type of damage and the amount of debris, AF447 did not crash at a high rate of speed.
Additionally, there had been no sign of trouble from the crew. AF447 reached a communication dead zone over the middle of the Atlantic after the crew’s final contact with Brazilian air traffic control (ATC) at 1:33 am.
The next scheduled connection was due to take place with ATC in Senegal, Africa. AF447 disappeared somewhere during the communication gap.
It would take two years to find the airplane despite advanced underwater scanning technologies. Finally, on April 2, 2011, 6.5 nautical miles (10.46 kilometers) northeast of the flight’s last location, the wreckage was discovered.
The wreckage field was small and concentrated, indicating that AF447 was intact when it hit the surface of the water. The black boxes were also recovered, meaning that investigators would finally be able to find out what had happened to the aircraft.
While flying over the Atlantic, AF447 encountered a thunderstorm. The first of several tragic events started during this storm.
Ice crystals formed in the Pitot tubes, which are a component of the Pitot static system. The autopilot instantly disconnected after the system reported inadequate speed readings to the flight computer, forcing the aircraft into manual mode.
It was at this moment that the second fatal event occurred. The nose of the aircraft was raised when the first officer pulled back on his control sidestick. The plane stalled as a result of this maneuver.
The normal procedure would have been to just maintain level flight. However, the inaccurate speed estimates and the autopilot’s deactivation led to uncertainty. Throughout the rest of the tragic flight, neither member of the flying crew was able to stop the plane from diving.
There is no way to know for sure what happened during the descent or what it was like for the passengers. However, the fact that life jackets were never inflated or unpacked from their initial placements and oxygen masks were retrieved in the stoved position tends to imply that no plans had been made in the cabin for an emergency crash landing.
The Pitot probes’ icing and the pilots’ erroneous reactions were identified as the primary contributing factors to the crash in the BEA’s final assessment, which was published in 2012.
“The obstruction of the Pitot probes by ice crystals during the cruise was a phenomenon that was known but misunderstood by the aviation community at the time of the accident,” the BEA concluded.
“The combination of the ergonomics of the warning design, the conditions in which airline pilots are trained and exposed to stalls during their professional training, and the process of recurrent training do not generate the expected behavior in any acceptable reliable way.”
While the Pitot probes, manufactured by the French company Thales, met the certification standards of the time, previous instances of icing had been reported. Air France was in the process of swapping them out for a different model that was less likely to become obstructed when the tragedy occurred.
The incriminated probe (model AA) was banned after the event by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which only approved the new probe (model BA) in the three Pitot positions.
To reduce the risk of loss of control while in flight, a global working group composed of the majority of significant players in the global aviation industry, including the ICAO, airlines, suppliers, and pilots’ associations, produced a manual titled “Airplane Upset Prevention and Recovery Training Aid.”