Both companies to appeal as victims’ families welcome decision
The aeroplane was heading overnight from Rio to Paris when it plunged into the Atlantic in June 2009, killing everyone on board in the deadliest crash in the airline’s history.
The pilots were found to have been insufficiently trained after a technical malfunction in the Airbus A330 led to inaccurate speed readings.
A magistrates’ investigation concluded in 2019 that neither company should face charges over the incident, but Wednesday’s ruling at a Paris court of appeals overturns that decision. Both companies said they would appeal the ruling.
Families of the crash victims spoke of their relief after the court decision. “It is an immense satisfaction to have finally been heard by the courts”, said Daniele Lamy, president of an association of victims’ relatives.
Ophelie Toulliou, a sister of one of the victims, said: “It’s a huge relief for us, because it’s been 12 years of procedures, and it’s true that in recent years we didn’t really believe in it.”
The two companies intend to appeal before a higher court. Air France “maintains that it did not commit a criminal offence”, a spokesperson for the airline said.
Airbus said: “The court decision that has just been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation that led to the dismissal of the case.”
After the AF447 crash, a search operation by the French and Brazilian navies took two years to find the wreckage, which was eventually located nearly 13,000ft below the ocean surface.
An investigation by French aviation authorities found two of the pilots had been overwhelmed after the plane’s pitot probes, which work as speed sensors, iced up and gave inaccurate readings.
The captain was having a rest away from the cockpit as the autopilot disconnected and panicked the co-pilots. The crew did not take into account a warning that the plane was stalling, and it then crashed.
The disaster led to a reckoning of the aviation industry’s relationship with technology, with authorities advising airlines to improve the ability of pilots to manually operate planes.