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Air France pilot 'wasn't in cockpit' when disaster struck

A report says pilot Marc Dubois was not in the cockpit when the accident on the Airbus A330 when a ‘deep stall’ kicked in.

The voice recorder from the doomed Air France Flight 447 was recovered earlier this month and is being examined by French authorities.
The voice recorder from the doomed Air France Flight 447 was recovered earlier this month and is being examined by French authorities.
Image: Michel Euler/AP

THE PILOT OF the stricken Air France Airbus A330 plane that crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 was not in the cockpit when the disaster began to hit, according to a news report.

German news magazine Der Spiegel, citing information obtained from the ‘black box’ flight recorder, reports that pilot Marc Dubois was not at the helm of flight 447 when problems began to arise.

The recording apparently indicates that Dubois ran back into the cockpit as the plane faltered, barking instructions to the two co-pilots on how to save the craft – though his intervention was apparently in vain.

The voice recorder was uncovered 4km below the surface of the Sargasso Sea off Brazil’s north-east coast earlier this month.

The recording also points to a combination of technical and human error on the flight, and somewhat dilute earlier indications that human error was entirely to blame.

While it was first thought that pilots might have steered into a storm that caused its speed sensors to freeze, the recorded flight path suggests that the crew had actively sought to trace the safest possible path.

The crew may have thought they have safely navigated the storm – with no apparent turbulence felt – but the storm may have caused the craft to suck in water, which then froze in a way the aircraft could not detect.

If this occurs, the plane would then be required to maintain a constant speed and altitude in order to prevent a so-called “deep stall”, which then causes the plane to plummet.

It is thought that such a stall was to blame for the crash, given that the main body of the aircraft was found about 10km from the last position recorded on the black box.

All 228 on board – 216 passengers and 12 crew – were killed when the plane crashed on June 1, 2009, including three Irish doctors.

Read Der Spiegel’s full account of the recording >

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Gavan Reilly

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