Rio-Paris jet crash probe 'discredited': relatives

3rd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Victims' relatives and a pilots' union on Tuesday said they had lost faith in a probe into the 2009 crash of an Air France jet that killed 228 people, alleging it sought to clear Airbus of responsibility.

The latest twist in the enquiry into why the Airbus A330 plunged into the Atlantic en route from Rio to Paris came after French media reported that the body leading the probe had withdrawn a recommendation to change stall alarms.

Instead, the French air accident investigation authority BEA on Friday released an interim report into the June 1, 2009 crash in which it said that the pilots were not trained to handle the jet when it stalled in rough weather.

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 immediately defended its pilots, saying the stall alarm had malfunctioned, while victims' families and pilots said the dropped recommendation showed the probe was apparently aimed at absolving Airbus.

Robert Soulas, head of a victims' relatives support group, said that "this sad episode definitively discredits the technical probe (and) creates an unprecedented crisis of confidence with the enquiry's authorities."

"The haste with which these authorities and these officials accused the pilots without any forethought aroused our suspicions," he said in a statement.

"We now have confirmation that the affirmations coming from the BEA were not only premature, (but) lacking any objectivity, partial and very oriented towards the defence of Airbus."

The National Airline Pilots Union (SNPL) said it wanted to suspend its involvement in the enquiry, fearing it would "turn into a simple charge sheet against the crew."

The union said in a statement that its faith in the BEA was "seriously damaged."

The BEA confirmed that it had been mulling a recommendation concerning stall alarms but had left it out as it wanted to investigate further. The BEA is to publish its final report in 2012.

Junior Transport Minister Thierry Mariani hailed the report of the BEA, which reports to his ministry, as exemplary and transparent, pouring scorn on "controversies" surrounding it.

"There has never been such a transparent enquiry: it was filmed, took place under the judiciary's control, with Brazilian, American investigators," he told AFP. "These controversies discredit an enquiry that is exemplary."

He said his ministry's relationship with the BEA was "an administrative and budgetary link, but not at all hierarchical."

Air France and Airbus are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, notably because of malfunctioning speed sensors known as Pitots.

The airline replaced the Pitots, manufactured by French company Thales, on its Airbus planes with a newer model after the crash.

Victims' families have previously alleged that the involvement of big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France was influencing the affair.

© 2011 AFP

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