The packed courtroom was silent as Judge Sylvie Daunis placed her papers on her desk, turned on her microphone and began to read the deliberations. In front of her were the same faces that had been attending the Rio-Paris trial for two months, from October 10 to December 8, 2022, in the same room of the Paris courthouse. Two sides separated by the aisle, with Air France and Airbus on one side and the victims’ families on the other.
After less than ten minutes of arguments, the suspense was ended – almost unexpectedly – by a single sentence: “The court acquits Air France and Airbus.” The verdict was a bitter disappointment for the families of the victims. There was no heckling nor shouting, which had occurred during the hearing back in the fall. “No certain causal link with the accident has been demonstrated,” the Judge read.
With these words, on Monday, April 17 at 1:44 pm, the judge brought to an end thirteen years of proceedings, two months of trial and four months of waiting. The criminal responsibility of Air France and Airbus, on trial for involuntary manslaughter, was ruled out.
Understanding the crew’s reaction
On the first day of the trial on October 10, 2022, Ms. Daunis needed more than seven minutes just to read the names of the 228 victims of the flight AF447 crash. She then described the 4 minutes and 23 seconds that precipitated the worst tragedy in the history of French civil aviation. On the night of June 1, a few hours after taking off from Rio de Janeiro airport, flight AF447, bound for Paris, stalled, then plummeted into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board.
The black boxes of this Airbus A330 confirmed that the Pitot speed tubes froze as the plane flew over the “doldrums” weather zone, near the equator, known to create difficult flight conditions. Destabilized by the failed tubes, the three pilots continued to nose up the plane but eventually lost control and were unable to prevent the fatal impact.
During the two-month long trial, countless aviation experts attempted to shed light on what caused the tragedy. Beyond the airspeed sensors, they went back to the cockpit’s design and equipment, as well as the pilots’ training and the general information they had available. The goal was to understand the crew’s reaction to the mechanical failure, but also to question the overall safety. Beyond the case of AF447, the court looked at the multiple other incidents linked to Pitot tubes of the same model as the one on the Airbus (the Thales AA). Twenty cases were reported between 2003 and 2009, including thirteen between 2008 and 2009.
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