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Entries in Air France Flight 447 (6)

Thursday
Jul052012

Air France Crash Investigation: Pilot Error, Faulty Equipment to Blame

EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- The Air France Flight 447 crash, considered one of the worst aviation disasters in history, could have been avoided, a top-ranking aviation safety expert said.

"Absolutely, this accident didn't have to happen," said William Voss, the president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation.

BEA, the French government's official accident investigators, conducted a three-year investigation into the crash, which killed all 228 people on board, including one married couple from Louisiana, when the Airbus A330 slammed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil in 2009.

In the agency's final report, which was released today, investigators determined that a combination of technical failures and mistakes made by inadequately trained pilots was responsible for the crash. They recommended that pilots be better trained to manually fly commercial aircraft at high altitudes and called for stricter plane certification rules.

"Our investigation is a no-blame investigation. It is just a safety investigation," Jean-Paul Troadec, the director of BEA, told ABC News. "What appears in the crew behavior is that most probably, a different crew should have done the same action. So, we cannot blame this crew. What we can say is that most probably this crew and most crews were not prepared to face such an event."

But the report went on to say that there were at least 12 other instances where pilots encountered this issue and the flights continued normally without problems. Voss said the Air France pilots didn't seem prepared for the situation they found themselves in the night of the crash.

"[The pilots] seemed to have trouble looking past the automation they were accustomed to and not really able to continue with the old raw information that pilots used to depend on," he said. "Clearly the report shows that there was a lot of difficult communication on the flight deck, a lot of incomplete thoughts, a lot of confusion."

According to the report, a speed sensor on board the plane, called a pitot tube, stopped functioning after becoming clogged with ice at high-altitude while the plane was flying through a thunderstorm. This caused the auto-pilot to disengage and shift the controls back to the pilots. While flying in heavy turbulence, the pilots failed to properly diagnose the severity of the problem because the pitot tube, a critical piece of equipment to the aircraft, was sending inaccurate data to the cockpit, the report said. The pilots put the plane into a devastating stall and it fell rapidly from the sky, before pancake-ing into the ocean.

"Despite these persistent symptoms, the crew never understood that they were stalling and consequently never applied a recovery maneuver," the report said.

Investigators noted that there was no possibility of surviving the accident.

"The crew's failure to diagnose the stall situation and consequently a lack of inputs that would have made it possible to recover from [the accident]" was a contributing factor, it concluded.

Airbus said in a statement to ABC News that it has been working to improve the pitot tubes and is taking measures to avoid such accidents in the future. Air France also has stressed the equipment problems and insisted the pilots "acted in line with the information provided by the cockpit instruments and systems. .... The reading of the various data did not enable them to apply the appropriate action."

Air France Flight 447 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31, 2009 on an overnight trip when it vanished. The plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of June 1, 2009 -- nearly four hours after take-off.

As "Nightline" previously reported, black box tapes recovered from the wreckage in April 2011 revealed that almost four hours into the flight, the plane was 800 miles off the coast of Brazil, and Captain Marc Dubois left the cockpit for a scheduled nap. At the time, the plane was about to fly into a thunderstorm, one that other flights that night had steered around.

According to the tapes, First Officer Cedric Bonin, a 32-year-old pilot who had fewer than 5,000 flight hours under his belt, was at the controls but had never been in this situation before at high-altitude. Bonin made the fatal mistake of pulling the plane's nose up, which caused it to go into a deep stall.

As Flight 447 went deeper into its catastrophic stall, the stall alarm cut in and out intermittently, the black box tapes revealed. Airbus had previously claimed the stall alarm on Flight 447 "was performing as designed," but critics charged the pilots would have been confused by the mixed signals.

It was not until the final three seconds before the plane hit the Atlantic that the pilots even realized they were going to crash, the black box tapes revealed.

About 180 victims' family members have sued Air France and Airbus over the crash. The family of one of the victims, Eithna Walls, has settled its lawsuit.

The A330, considered among the safest in the skies, has flown over 800 million passengers across the world and there are 865 planes in operation today, according to Airbus's website. But in modern aviation, large commercial jets almost fly themselves. Voss said that on any given flight, pilots are manually flying the plane for only three minutes -- one minute and 30 seconds each for take-off and landing.

"The fact is there aren't many opportunities for a pilot to hand fly the aircraft anymore," he said. "The truth is it's only a few minutes during each flight, maybe until they climb up to altitude. Many airplanes don't even allow the hand flying for that long."

At the heart of the heated debate over so-called "automation addiction," which is when pilots are overly dependent on computers to fly their planes, is the question of whether pilots are actually learning how to properly fly large commercial aircraft.

"Because of this sophistication and the ability of airplane to fly themselves, they don't have as many people to actually fly the airplane, to actually exercise their stick and rudder capabilities," Bill Bozin, the vice president of safety and technical affairs at Airbus, told "Nightline" in June.

In the wake of the Air France crash, Voss said "many airlines" were retraining their pilots on flying manually, but that much more needs to be done to overhaul pilot training programs around the world.

"I think there's a training gap that still exists," he said. "There have been hundreds of incremental changes to the way we fly aircraft but there haven't been any changes in the training program that reflect that."

"The fact is aircraft are going to become more automated," Voss added. "There's no way to even tell how many lives have been saved by the automation that are in aircraft. So it's a good thing and it's going to continue to progress. What we have to continue to do is keep the human side up to speed with what the automation is doing."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May242011

Air France Flight 447: Black Boxes Indicate Pilot Error Caused Accident

HO/AFP/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- Nearly two years after Air France flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 228 people, the plane's black boxes, discovered early last month, reveal the pilots' actions may have ultimately caused the accident.

The aircraft's data and voice recorder were found with wreckage from the airliner more than 13,000 feet below the ocean's surface.

Flight 447 had taken off from Brazil and was bound for Paris when, at 35,000 feet and nearly four hours into the flight, the plane apparently encountered heavy icing. The icing caused the speed sensors to malfunction, which meant the on-board computers were receiving faulty and confusing speed readings.

With the computers unable to process the confusing speed information, the autopilot shut down, leaving the jumbo jet suddenly in the hands of the cockpit crew.

ABC News has confirmed that when the emergency began, the captain was out of the cockpit on a break. With alarms likely sounding, his crewmates, possibly confused, tried to diagnose the problem. A German newspaper reports the captain rushed back into the cockpit shouting commands at his two co-pilots.

William Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, told ABC News that the pilots could have gotten sidetracked trying to deal with the emergency.

ABC News has learned the jumbo jet, an Airbus A330 was still flyable, but the pilots apparently failed to do what was necessary to keep the jet in the air. They may have flown too slowly, causing the plane to stall and tumble out of the sky. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the crew failed to fly the plane properly.

The pilots apparently had not been trained to handle precisely this kind of emergency.

Voss said even as planes get more complicated and automated, it's important to put the emphasis back on making emergency procedures simple, and not to let technology interfere with the basics of flying an airplane.

Airbus, Air France and French investigators have refused to comment publicly on the information from the black boxes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
May232011

Air France 447: Air Speed Sensors Eyed in Crash

HO/AFP/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- The investigation into a deadly Air France crash is reportedly narrowing on the aircraft's airspeed indicators. With two co-pilots at the helm, Air France Flight 447 went down into the Atlantic two years ago after speed sensors failed and the Airbus jet stalled, a German newspaper reported.

Der Spiegel cited sources who are familiar with the contents of flight recorders recovered from the ocean floor two weeks ago.  The unnamed sources told the newspaper that the chief pilot, Captain Marc Dubois, had left the cockpit just before the Airbus A330's airspeed sensors failed four hours into the flight.  The failure of the sensors caused the autopilot to disengage and the plane to stall, going into an uncontrolled dive.

The air speed sensors have long been suspected as the cause of the crash.  Air France flight 447 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31, 2009, when it when down in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 people aboard.

Its last known communication was about four hours into the flight.

Before the crash, the pilot had sent an electronic text message to the airline to say that the plane was heading to an area known for stormy weather, the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

About 24 automated messages during four minutes were sent from the plane before it disappeared from radar.  The messages recorded system failures and variable speed readings.

Last month, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered the plane's wreckage using remote underwater submarines some four kilometers deep.

Of those who died, 51 bodies were found following the crash but 177 bodies are still missing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May122011

Air France 447: Flight Box Recorders Could Unlock Crash Mystery

HO/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Authorities may be a step closer to unlocking the cause of a 2009 Air France crash after two flight box recorders recovered from deep beneath the sea arrived in France Thursday morning.

Air France flight 447 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31, 2009 when the Airbus A330 jet when down in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 people aboard.

Its last known communication was about four hours into the flight.

Officials are now investigating whether they can extract information from the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

Before the crash, the pilot had sent an electronic text message to the airline to say that the plane was heading to an area known for stormy weather, the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

About 24 automated messages during four minutes were sent from the plane before it disappeared from radar.  The messages recorded system failures and variable speed readings.

Last month, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered the plane's wreckage using remote underwater submarines some four kilometers deep.

Of those who died, 51 bodies were found following the crash but 177 bodies are still missing.

Two bodies were brought to the surface and the remains are in a lab to determine if officials can extract DNA from them, officials said at Thursday news conference.  If no DNA can be pulled, other bodies will remain at the bottom of the sea, officials said.

Authorities said recovering the bodies took three hours to go down and up from the ocean.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May032011

Investigators Locate Second 'Black Box' from Downed Air France Jet

HO/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- A second flight recorder from an Air France jet that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009 has been recovered by French investigators.

All 228 passengers and crew members on the plane headed to Paris from Rio de Janeiro were killed when the aircraft ran into trouble during a high-altitude thunderstorm.

The discovery of the cockpit voice recorder, or "black box," under two miles of water came after investigators located the flight data recorder Sunday that notes the plane's position, speed, altitude and direction.

Wreckage from the Airbus A330-200 was found last month about six miles from its last known location in the mid-Atlantic.

Up to the now, the only concrete evidence regarding the crash comes from an analysis of the plane's airspeed sensors, derived from automated messages it transmitted prior to the crash.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr042011

Missing Bodies Found Amid Wreckage of Air France Flight 447

HO/AFP/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Bodies from Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean almost two years ago, have been found by aquatic robots, and will be brought to the surface within the next few weeks, officials said.

There are 178 bodies still unaccounted for of the 228 who perished. Fifty-one bodies were recovered in the days following the accident on May 31, 2009, shortly after Flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro en route to Paris.

Most of the passengers were Brazilian, French and German. An American couple, Anne and Michael Harris, who was living in Brazil and have family in Louisiana, was also onboard.

The Airbus A330 jetliner began to experience electrical problems shortly after takeoff and read the plane's speed incorrectly. Several hours later, the plane could no longer be spotted on radar. It plunged into the ocean, with most of the fuselage still intact.

Investigators hope to find the plane's two black box flight recorders, which would help them piece together what caused the crash.

A French magistrate recently began investigating Airbus to see if the company could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Judge Sylvie Zimmerman is overseeing the probe. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Airbus could face criminal charges.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio