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Court rules Air France and Airbus must stand trial over 228 deaths in 2009 Paris-Rio crash

Three Irish women were among the 228 people killed in the air crash.

File photo shows workers unloading debris, belonging to crashed Air France flight AF447, in the port of Recife, northeast of Brazil.
File photo shows workers unloading debris, belonging to crashed Air France flight AF447, in the port of Recife, northeast of Brazil.
Image: AP/PA Images

AIR FRANCE AND Airbus must stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges over the 2009 crash of a Rio de Janeiro-to-Paris flight that killed all 228 people on board, a Paris court ruled today.

Flight AF447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean during a storm on 1 June 2009, the deadliest crash in Air France’s history.

Three Irish women aged in their 20s - Aisling Butler from Co Tipperary, Jane Deasy from Dublin and Eithne Walls who lived in Co Down – were killed in the air crash.

The court followed the general prosecutor’s recommendation, overturning an earlier court decision to drop the case against both the French flagship carrier and Europe’s top aircraft maker.

It took two years to find the wreckage of the Airbus A330 jet, which was eventually located by remote-controlled submarines at a depth of 3,900 metres.

Investigators determined the crash was caused by errors by pilots, who were disorientated by faulty speed-monitoring equipment.

The general prosecutor’s office call for a manslaughter trial against both Air France and Airbus went beyond the Paris prosecutor’s initial demand that only Air France should face manslaughter charges.

Both prosecuting teams contested a 2019 decision to drop the charges by the two investigating magistrates assigned to the case, who said they could not ascribe fault to the companies in what appeared to be a case of pilot error.

bea-press-conference-about-rio-paris-air-france-crash-in-2009 Relatives of the victims listening head of technical investigations into civil aviation accidents. July 2011. Source: Mousse

‘No criminal act’

But prosecutors accused Air France of indirectly causing the tragedy by providing insufficient training on how to react in case of malfunction of the so-called Pitot tubes, which enable pilots to monitor their speed.

The pilots reacted incorrectly when the plane stalled after the speed sensors froze over as it flew through a large cloud at high altitude.

Lawyers for Airbus said they would lodge an appeal against the decision, saying it “in no way reflects the conclusions of the investigation which resulted in no charges against Airbus in this case”.

Air France told AFP that it had committed “no criminal act” and that it, too, reserved the right to lodge an appeal.

The Paris appeals court decision had been much awaited by victims’ families.

“It’s a huge satisfaction to feel that we have finally been heard by the courts,” Daniele Lamy, president of an association of victims’ families, said after today’s ruling.

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“But we still deplore that it took 12 long years to get to this point. Twelve years of unwavering determination, full of uncertainty, of tricky and obscure procedures and of dejection, but never resignation,” she said.

The French pilots’ association also welcomed the decision, with a spokesman saying that “accusations were aimed at the pilots, while the aircraft maker and airline were cleared of all wrongdoing”.

But the truth, he said, was that “the instruments didn’t function the way they should have”.

Since the disaster, pilot training on dealing with unforeseen circumstances has been stepped up in France and several other countries.

Air France and Airbus have stood trial in France once before, over a crash that killed 87 people onboard an A320 near the eastern city of Strasbourg in January 1992. They were both found not guilty.

© – AFP 2021

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