French judges drop charges against Air France over 2009 Rio-Paris crash

Handout/Brazilian Navy/AFP | Photo from the Brazilian Navy on June 8, 2009, showing divers recovering a huge part of the rudder of an Air France A330 aircraft lost in midflight over the Atlantic ocean on June 1, 2009.

French magistrates investigating the 2009 crash of a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in which 228 people died have ordered that the charges against Airbus and Air France be dropped.


Air France flight AF447 plunged into the Atlantic during a storm on June 1, 2009, after the plane’s Pitot tubes, which enable pilots to monitor their speed, malfunctioned.

In their conclusions, seen by Reuters, the judges said the pilots of the Airbus A330 had failed to process all the warnings and instrument readings provided by the aircraft.

The plane plunged into the ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris after entering an aerodynamic stall and falling from an altitude of 11580 metres (38,000 feet) during a storm, its engines running but its wings losing lift.

“The direct cause of the accident is the crew’s loss of control of the aircraft’s trajectory,” the judges determined.

Other crews, faced with similar situations, had successfully maintained control of their aircraft, their ruling said.

The magistrates overruled the prosecutors investigating the case, who had recommended that Air France stand trial over the crash in July. The magistrates followed the prosecutors’ recommendation to drop the charges against Airbus.

In their 2012 report, French accident investigators found the crew of AF447 mishandled the loss of speed readings from sensors blocked with ice and pushed the jet into a stall by holding the nose too high.

Magistrates’ decision an ‘insult’

The main association of victims’ families called the magistrates’ decision an “insult to the memory of the victims” and announced plans to appeal.

A lawyer representing the families of victims said the appeal would be lodged immediately.

“The judges have just written in black and white that the icing of the pitot sensors had nothing to do with the accident. It’s nonsense,” Sébastien Busy told Reuters. “If the pitot sensors hadn’t iced up, there wouldn’t have been an accident.”

The crash was the worst in Air France’s history and prompted much soul-searching about pilot training after it emerged that one of the co-pilots reacted incorrectly when the plane stalled after the speed sensors froze over.

It took two years to find the wreckage of the Airbus A330, which was eventually located by remote-controlled submarines at a depth of 3,900 metres (13,000 feet).

Magistrates later charged Air France and Airbus with manslaughter, but prosecutors in July recommended that only the airline face trial.

The prosecutors accused Air France of negligence for failing to train its pilots about how to react if the Pitot tubes malfunctioned, after several incidents involving the sensors in the months leading up to the crash.

In such cases the magistrates leading the investigation have the final say over prosecutors, but the decision can be appealed by defence or civil plaintiffs.

Since the disaster, pilot training on dealing with unforeseen circumstances has been stepped up in France and several other countries.

Aircraft safety has been in the spotlight this year after two crashes involving the 737 MAX plane from US aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has led to the global fleet of the aircraft being grounded as a result.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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