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Thursday 19 April 2018

Air France crash: Irish doctors died due to pilot error

The report confirmed previous findings that the plane's airspeed sensors were blocked by ice at cruising altitude, causing the autopilot to shut down around four hours into the flight. Photo: Reuters
Eithne Walls
Dr Jane Deasy
Aisling Butler


THE pilot of the Air France jet which plunged into the Atlantic in 2009 killing 228 people – including three Irish doctors - pushed the nose upward instead of downward during a stall because of false data from sensors, the father of a victim says.

Robert Soulas was briefed by French air accident investigators about their final report into the Airbus A330 crash.

He says investigators said the flight director system indicated "erroneous information" that the plane was diving downward, "and therefore to compensate, the pilot had a tendency to pull on the throttle to make it rise up".

Investigators had known the pilot nosed upward during the stall instead of down, which would have been the normal manoeuvre for stall recovery. But they did not know why.

The full report is due to be released later today, but a source told AFP that human error contributed to the crash in June 2009.

The judicial report – due to be presented to victims' families next week – has concluded that pilot error and malfunctioning speed sensors were responsible, the source said.

The three young Irish doctors Jane Deasy (27), from Rathgar in Dublin, Aisling Butler (26), from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and Eithne Walls, (28), a former Irish dancing star and member of the famous 'Riverdance' troupe from Ballygowan, Co Down, were flying home from a holiday.

The ill-fated Airbus A330 aircraft flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009 disappeared after it ran into stormy weather with strong turbulence around four hours into the flight.

The women graduated together from the same class as doctors in surgery from Trinity College on June 15, 2007.

It took days before debris from the crash was located in the remote equatorial Atlantic Ocean area, and far longer until the wreckage was recovered.

The black boxes were finally located by robot submarines after a search spanning 23 months and costing about $40m.

A second report by the French aviation safety authority, BEA, is due to present its final report on the crash on Thursday. The paper is eagerly awaited amid a row between Airbus and Air France on who ultimately bears responsibility.

The source said the separate 356-page judicial report found that speed sensors froze up and failed, but also that the "captain had failed in his duties" and "prevented the co-pilot from reacting".

The aircraft had entered a zone of turbulence two hours into the flight when the autopilot suddenly disengaged, the BEA had said earlier.

Investigators revealed last year that Captain Marc Dubois was on a break as his two less experienced co-pilots ignored and failed to discuss repeated stall warnings during the three and a half minutes it took the Airbus A330 to plunge into the ocean.

All 228 people on board – including crew – died after the Airbus hurtled into the Atlantic at a speed of 180 feet a second in the worst disaster in Air France's history.

French magistrates are investigating Air France and Airbus for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, notably because of the malfunctioning speed sensors, known as Pitots.

The airline replaced the Pitots, manufactured by French company Thales, on its Airbus planes with a newer model after the crash.

Victims' families have previously alleged that the involvement of big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France was influencing the affair.

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