On the evening of May 31, 2009, an Air France A330-200 took off from Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. However, while over the Atlantic Ocean during the early hours of the following morning, the aircraft entered a high altitude and crashed. All 12 crew members and 216 passengers were killed. Next week, Air France and Airbus will go to trial in Paris over the tragic event that happened 13 years ago.
The accident happened during an equatorial storm in the region. Nevertheless, the crew of AF 447 was in contact with the Brazilian ATLANTICO control center at approximately FL350. At around 02:02 UTC, Captain Marc Dubois left the cockpit, and at around 02:08 UTC the crew changed course 12 degrees to the left, which may have been to avoid returns picked up by weather radar.
Two minutes later, the speed indications were incorrect and some of the automatic systems disconnected. The reason for this was probably after the pitot probes were blocked by ice crystals. So the two co-pilots on board did not manage the F-GZCP registration journey. A minute and a half later, the captain rejoined them while the twinjet was still stationary until it crashed into the ocean around 02:14 UTC.
It took two years to find the flight recorders on the bottom of the Atlantic. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was deployed to collect items from the ocean floor.
According to a report by France’s Bureau of Investigation and Analysis of Civil Aviation Security (BEA), the incident was the result of the following:
-Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds, probably after the pitot probes were blocked by ice crystals, which mainly led to the disconnection of the autopilot and the change of configuration to the alternate law.
-Inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path.
-The crew does not make the connection between the loss of indicated airspeeds and the appropriate procedure.
-Late identification of deviation in flight path PNF (pilot not flying) and insufficient correction by PF (pilot flying).
-The crew did not detect the approach to the crash, the lack of immediate reaction on their part and the exit from the flight envelope.
-Failure of the crew to diagnose the stall situation and subsequent lack of any actions to allow recovery.
The crash led to numerous safety advisories and major changes in the way pilots are trained to deal with loss of control. Still, the BEA called for more to be done about its long-term concerns.
In September 2019, charges were dropped in the case, with investigating magistrates saying that the accident was caused by a combination of elements that had never happened before and that the danger could not have been perceived. However, there was a reversal in May 2021 when the Court of Appeal in Paris overturned the decision.
The loved ones on board the plane that dark day are seeking justice for what happened. Reuters notes that the maximum fine for Airbus or Air France if convicted of involuntary manslaughter is around €225,000 ($220,612). However, for the relatives of the victims, it is not about the money. They would be determined to hold someone accountable.