‘Pilots could have saved’ Air France plane

“The situation was salvageable,” says chief accident investigator after release of new report into 2009 Atlantic crash.

A recently recovered flight recorder from the ill-fated plane has shed new light into the accident [Reuters]

The pilots of an Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 ignored repeated stall warnings and failed to follow textbook procedures, French investigators have found.

BEA, the air accident investigation agency, released a summary of a new report on Friday based on cockpit recordings from recently recovered black boxes that gave insight into the final minutes of flight AF 447 which plummeted 38,000 feet and hurtled into the ocean at 200km per hour.

It revealed that passengers were not given any warning as pilots struggled to avoid the crash in the early hours of June 1, 2009. All 228 people on board the Airbus A330 flying from Brazil to France died.

The pilots could still have saved the situation after the jet lost its speed data, the head of BEA said. “The situation was salvageable,” said Jean-Paul Troadec, after the report was released.

The updated account confirmed an earlier finding which said the crew responded to stall warnings by pointing the nose up instead of down.

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

An aerodynamic stall — not to be confused with stalled engines — is a dangerous condition that occurs when wings are unable to support the aircraft. The textbook way of responding is to point the nose downwards to capture air at a better angle.

But a stall of a commercial aircraft is a rare event and especially so at high altitude, for which crash investigators have made clear there is little or no specific training.

The report appeared likely to spark a battle between Air France and Airbus over whether the pilots’ actions in failing to respond to a stall or whether faulty flight equipment were most to blame.

“At this stage, there is no reason to question the crew’s technical skills,” Air France said in a statement, blaming the “misleading stopping and starting of the stall warning alarm” for complicating their attempts to analyse the situation.

Question of blame

Families of the victims have been eager to hear more about what had happened, and several met with investigators on Friday morning at the agency’s headquarters outside of Paris.

The question of who is to blame for the catastrophic crash is of huge importance as both the investigation agency and Air France face criminal probes in France.

The air accident investigation agency issued 10 new safety recommendations alongside the report summary, aimed at avoiding a repeat of the crash.

But Robert Soulas, who lost his daughter in the crash, said still more needs to be divulged on what really caused the flight to go askew.

“It’s mainly the technical elements that we are missing,” Soulas told AP Television News.

“It’s completely premature to accuse the pilots if we don’t know what situation they were confronted with.”

Friday’s report is the most extensive by investigators to date. A final report is expected in early 2012.

Source: News Agencies

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