PILOT ERROR: Air France Jet Plunged Into Ocean Because Pilots Screwed Up

Air France 447 tail

A new report from France’s BEA authority has blamed 2009’s Air France crash in the Atlantic Ocean on the inadequate training of the pilots, reports the BBC.

All 228 people on board the flight died after it plunged into the sea four hours into a flight from Rio, Brazil to Paris, on June 1 2009.

Recently recovered black box recorders have allowed investigators to better understand the tragedy.

The report finds that the junior pilots on board the flight relied too much on the plane’s computers, and were unable to control the situation manually.

“It seems obvious the crew didn’t recognise the situation they were in, for whatever reason, and more training could have helped,” Paul Hayes, safety director at UK consultancy Ascend Aviation, told Reuters.

The pilots failed to discuss “stall” alarms as the Airbus jet fell 38,000 feet. The textbook way to combat an aerodynamic stall — when the wings cannot support the aircraft — is to point the nose downwards. Instead the pilots pointed the nose up. The situation is rare for commercial flights.

Normally, the computer operated autopilot system would correct for the aerodynamic stall. However, as speed data was affected by ice on sensors the autopilot system had switched itself off and the pilots were flying manually.

The captain of the plane, who had greater experience flying manually, was resting during the disaster, and only returned to the cockpit when the situation was irreversible, reports AFP.

BEA has issued 10 new safety recommendations in the report, most of which focus on flight training. Air France has denied the training of its pilots played a role in the disaster.

In May, a pilot wrote to us to tell us he felt the pilots would find it very difficult to regain control of the aeroplane in that situation.

The report is controversial as legal responsibility for the crash is still being established.

“This is perhaps a way of BEA freeing the firms from their responsibility,” a lawyer for the families of some victims told Reuters. “If there was not a failure of the Pitot sensors [the plane’s sensors which iced over], the pilots would not have been placed in such a complicated situation.”

The final moments of the flight (via the BBC):
1. 0135 GMT: The crew informs the controller of the flight’s location.

2. 0159-0206 GMT: The co-pilot warns of turbulence ahead before the captain leaves the cockpit for a rest break.

3. 0208 GMT: The plane turns left, diverting from the planned route. Turbulence increases.

4. 0210 GMT: The auto-pilot and auto-thrust mechanisms disengage. The plane rolls to the right. The co-pilot attempts to raise the nose. The stall warning sounds twice and the plane’s speed drops. The co-pilot calls the captain.

5. 0210 GMT: The stall warning sounds again. The plane climbs to 38,000ft.

6. 0211-0213 GMT: The captain re-enters the cockpit. The plane is flying at 35,000 ft but is descending 10,000 ft per minute. The co-pilot says “I don’t have any more indications”, pulls the nose down and the stall warning sounds again.

After location 6. 02:14 GMT: Recordings stop.

Source: BEA. Note: Last known position = last known position before the plane’s “black boxes” were retrieved

SEE ALSO: Our look at the final moments of the flight >

UPDATE: Air France has responded to the BEA’s report, saying it’s still too early to blame their pilots for the crash. (No surprise.)