French prosecutors not seeking convictions in 2009 Rio-Paris crash trial
French prosecutors said Wednesday that they would not seek convictions for Air France and plane maker Airbus over the 2009 crash of a Rio-Paris flight, saying they were unable to prove the companies were guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Their guilt “appears to us to be impossible to prove. We know that this view will most likely be difficult to hear for the civil plaintiffs, but we are not in a position to demand the conviction of Air France and Airbus,” the public prosecutor said in court.
The two France-based companies went on trial in October to determine their responsibility for the worst aviation disaster in Air France’s history, which left 228 dead on board flight AF447.
Both have denied the involuntary manslaughter charges that carry a maximum fine of 225,000 euros ($236,000).
The decision not to seek a conviction by the public prosecutor is unusual but does not mean that the three-person team of judges overseeing the trial has to follow their advice.
Prosecutors initially dropped charges against the companies in 2019 in a decision that infuriated victims’ families at the time.
A Paris appeals court overturned this decision in 2021 and ordered the trial to go ahead.
“We have a prosecutor who is supposed to defend the people who in the end is defending the multinational Airbus,” Daniele Lamy, the head of victims’ association Entraide et Solidarite AF447, told reporters on Wednesday.
She denounced a “trial skewed against the pilots”.
At the heart of eight weeks of hearings in Paris has been the role of defective so-called Pitot tubes, which are used to measure the flight speed of aircraft.
The court has heard how a malfunction with the tubes, which became blocked with ice crystals during a mid-Atlantic storm, caused alarms to sound in the cockpit of the Airbus A330 and the autopilot system to switch off.
Representatives from Airbus and Air France as well as technical experts have highlighted how the pilots put the plane into a climb after the instrument failure, causing the engines to stall.
Lawyers for victims’ families emphasised how both companies were aware of the Pitot tube problem before the crash, and that the pilots were not trained to deal with a high-altitude emergency of this nature.
The defective tubes, manufactured by French company Thales, were quickly replaced on planes worldwide in the months after the accident.
The crash also prompted an overhaul of training protocols across the industry, in particular to prepare pilots to handle the intense stress of unforeseen circumstances.
Pilots are also now required to continually practise stall responses on simulators.
On October 17, lawyers and victims’ families were allowed to listen to the chilling in-flight voice recording of the pilots’ final minutes for the first time.
It took nearly two years to recover the “black box” flight recorders from the bottom of the Atlantic.