Pilots blamed in Air France crash

A “series of failings” by the pilots occurred in the minutes before an Air France flight crashed into the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 people on board, according to a new French air investigation report.

The crew could have saved Flight 447, which crashed on June 1, 2009, after it lost vital readings when speed sensors iced up. However, members of the crew had insufficient training to deal with the situation and failed to respond correctly, ignoring repeated stall warnings and failing to react properly to the stall, according to the report from France’s air investigation authority, the BEA.

“The situation was salvageable,” BEA director Jean Paul Troadec told reporters. Instead, the stalled aircraft dropped out of the sky at 10,000 feet a second.

Air France defended its pilots Friday, saying the accident had been caused by a malfunction of the altitude alert system.


The report, the third on what caused the Airbus 330 flying through high-altitude turbulence to crash into the ocean, is based on the findings of flight recorders found in May.

The investigation confirmed that the freezing up and failure of speed sensors set off the catastrophic chain of events. However, the report says the copilots, forced to fly the plane manually, lacked the training to deal with the situation.

Faced with intermittent but repeated stall warnings at high altitude, the report says the copilot flying the plane had, for an inexplicable reason, done the exact opposite of what should have been done: he pulled the plane up instead of pointing the nose down.

An Air France statement said, “At this stage, there is no reason to question the crew’s technical skills.” The company blamed the “misleading stopping and starting of the stall warning alarm” for complicating the crew’s attempts to analyze the situation.


Airbus said it “welcomed” the report “as a further step towards gaining a full understanding of the chain of events that led to this tragic accident.”


Willsher is a special correspondent.