Rio-Paris crash pilots lacked training: probe
Pilots of an Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 killing 228 people were not trained to handle the jet when it stalled in rough weather, investigators said Friday.
The French flag carrier insisted the pilots were not to blame after French aviation authority BEA said they failed to handle the plane when its speed sensors froze up and its autopilot system failed high over the Atlantic.
"Neither of the pilots formally identified the stall situation" when the plane started dropping, despite an alarm ringing for nearly a minute, it said in a report.
"The co-pilots had received no high altitude training for unreliable IAS (indicated air speed) procedure and manual air craft handling," the report said.
Air France immediately defended its pilots, however, saying the stall alarm had malfunctioned.
"Nothing at this stage can allow the crew's technical competence to be blamed" for the crash, the airline said in a statement.
It pointed to the failure of the speed sensors which it said contributed to "a worsened and unstable piloting environment".
The BEA said the speed sensors, known as Pitots, malfunctioned when the jet hit rough weather during the overnight flight on June 1, 2009.
They said the captain of the flight had gone out of the cockpit to rest, leaving two co-pilots "without clear operational instructions".
Air France insisted: "The crew on duty showed professionalism and stayed committed until the end to operating the flight.
"Air France salutes their courage and determination in these extreme conditions," it said in a statement.
"The altitude-loss alarm was activated and deactivated several times contradicting the real status of the aircraft, which contributed strongly to the crew's difficulty in analysing the situation," Air France said.
The BEA recommended "the regulatory authorities re-examine the content of training (for pilots) and in particular make mandatory the creation of regular specific exercises aimed at manual airplane handling" in the event of a stall.
Air France and Airbus are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash.
The airline replaced the Pitots, manufactured by French company Thales, on its Airbus planes with a newer model after the crash.
Friday's report was the third formal update from years of investigations into how flight AF447 crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009, killing all on board.
The report, based partly on data from the plane's flight recorders, revealed that when it crashed the plane was hurtling towards the water nose-up at 107 knots (123 miles or 200 kilometres an hour).
The Inquiry and Analysis Bureau (BEA) took nearly two years to locate the wreck of the crash and its "black box" flight recorders and retrieve many of the victims' bodies.
Officials insisted the BEA's findings did not amount to an official attribution of blame for the disaster that has implicated pilots, the airline and plane and equipment makers.
"That is up to the courts," Environment and Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on RTL radio Friday.
Victims' families alleged that the involvement of big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France was influencing the affair.
"The economic stakes take precedence over the search for the truth," said Robert Soulas, leader of an association of victims' relatives.
Rescue workers recovered 50 bodies in the days immediately after the crash and in May retrieved a further 104, which were returned to France last month. More than 70 could not be recovered.
The BEA said it would make its final report in 2012.
© 2011 AFP