Air France and Airbus referred to justice for AF447 Rio de Janeiro – Paris crash in 2009

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By Foto: Roberto Maltchik Repórter da TV Brasil – http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/galeria/2009-06-14/14-de-junho-de-2009, CC BY 3.0 br, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7025836

Twelve years after the crash of the Rio-Paris AF447 flight off Brazil, the Paris Court of Appeal has decided to refer Air France and Airbus to justice. 228 passengers and crew died in the crash. A dismissal was initially made in 2019.

The Paris Court of Appeal on Wednesday ordered a trial for “involuntary homicides” against Air France and Airbus for their indirect responsibilities in the Rio-Paris crash which killed 228 people in 2009. This decision of the investigative chamber of the court of appeal, requested by the general prosecutor’s office, invalidates the dismissal pronounced in 2019 in favour of the airline and the manufacturer at the end of the investigations.

Airbus lawyers, Me Simon Ndiaye and Antoine Beauquier, immediately announced an appeal in cassation, denouncing an “unjustified decision” according to them, “in contradiction with the investigating judges who knew the file well“. “Air France denies having committed a criminal fault which is at the origin of this terrible accident“, reacted one of the lawyers of the company, Me François Saint-Pierre.

On June 1, 2009, flight AF447 connecting Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the middle of the Atlantic. The pilots, disoriented by a technical failure while crossing the unstable meteorological zone of the Doldrums, were unable to catch up with the stall of the A330-200 (F-GZCP), resulting in the death of 216 passengers and 12 crew members.

On August 29, 2019, after ten years of investigations marked by a battle of experts, the investigating judges of the collective accident division of the Paris court had rendered a general dismissal. The investigations “did not lead to characterising a faulty breach by Airbus or Air France in connection (…) with the piloting errors (…) at the origin of the accident”, the magistrates had then estimated.

On the contrary, the general prosecutor’s office considered that the “indirect causes” of the crash were attributable to the failings of the two companies: the managers of Air France “refrained from implementing the necessary training and information for the crews“, while Airbus “underestimated the seriousness of the Pitot speed sensor failures” and did not do enough to correct this dangerous flaw.

The icing of these Pitot tubes was the trigger for the disaster. Caused by the formation of ice crystals during a passage at high altitude in a cluster of cumulonimbus, the incident had led to inconsistent speed measurements and disoriented the pilots until the fatal stall in less than 4 minutes.

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