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Air France And Airbus Face Manslaughter Charges For Deadly 2009 Crash

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Air France and Airbus are looking likely to have to stand trial for the crash of an aircraft that took place over 10 years ago. Air France flight 447, operated by an Airbus A330, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1st, 2009. A French appeals court has today overturned a previous decision not to press charges on the planemaker or the airline.

Air France 447
Air France and Airbus will face charges over the crash in 2009. Photo: Getty Images

Involuntary manslaughter

The crash of Air France 447 was the deadliest in the history of the airline. 216 passengers and 12 crew members lost their lives after the Airbus A330 stalled in a thunderstorm and crashed into the ocean. Subsequent investigations blamed pilot errors, but also highlighted an issue with faulty speed monitoring equipment.

Following the crash, the Public Prosecutors Office had called for a manslaughter trial against Air France, alleging that the airline did not provide sufficient information to its pilots on the procedures to be followed. It cited several incidents of a similar nature that had occurred in the months preceding the crash of AF 447.

However, in September 2019, all charges were dropped. At the time, the investigating judges said, as reported by the Financial Times, that,

“[This] accident is evidently due to a conjunction of elements that had never occurred before, and thus highlighted dangers that could not have been perceived before this accident”.

Air France 447
It took two years to recover the ‘black box’ from the crash site. Photo: Getty Images

However, the association representing the relatives of the victims, ‘Association entraide et solidarité vol AF447’, appealed the judgment. Today, the Court of Appeal of Paris has overturned the 2019 decision, and has ordered that Air France and planemaker Airbus be tried for involuntary manslaughter in relation to the accident.

Danièle Lamy, president of the Association entraide et solidarité vol AF447, told France 24 that,

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“It is an immense satisfaction to have the feeling of having finally been heard by the courts.”

Iced Pitot tubes

Following investigations, the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) cause of the crash of Air France flight 447 has been attributed to a combination of factors. The main issue is believed to have been faulty readings from the Pitot sensors, which had become iced up during the flight. The report states that one of the causes was likely,

“Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds, likely following the obstruction of the Pitot probes by ice crystals that led in particular to autopilot disconnection and a reconfiguration to alternate law.”

Air France 447
The recovery made use of an ROV to find wreckage on the ocean floor. Photo: Getty Images

It goes on to say that the problem was further compounded by the crew making incorrect decisions. Most crucially, the crew did not identify the approaching stall, and therefore could not implement corrective actions in time.

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The aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil at just after 2 AM on the 1st of June 2009. It took two years for the flight recorders to be recovered from the ocean floor, which required the use of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) due to the depth involved.

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